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Haredi leader Litzman departs Knesset as part of plea deal

23-year veteran of parliament and ex-minister for the United Torah Judaism party, quits before court hearing over involvement in Leifer sexual abuse case

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman arrives for a meeting with leaders of opposition parties at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 8, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman arrives for a meeting with leaders of opposition parties at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 8, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman, a 23-year veteran of the Knesset and former minister, resigned his seat Wednesday as part of a plea deal over his involvement in the Malka Leifer sexual abuse case.

Litzman’s resignation is tied to his upcoming end-of-June court date, according to his office. The politician must leave Knesset before the hearing, as part of a negotiated plea deal for a single charge of fraud and breach of trust in relation to the Leifer case.

His resignation will become official 48 hours from its Wednesday afternoon submission, though Litzman vowed to “stay in politics” during a final speech on the Knesset floor.

“I am staying for a few things in which I can help,” he said, without elaborating.

Vocal in his distaste for the ruling coalition, Litzman expressed disappointment that he was resigning before being able to vote to dissolve the current Knesset and hold new elections.

“This Knesset is not what’s supposed to be and you all know this,” he told his colleagues in the plenum.

Closing his remarks, Litzman recalled a vote on funding for yeshivas at an unspecified date, saying he could have used his influence to “have gotten anything,” but instead decided to split the pot.

“Prime Minister [Naftali Bennett] and Interior Minister [Ayelet Shaked] need to put very well into their heads how I behaved then and how they’re behaving today,” he said.

The current government has worked to pass measures against and slash funding for issues close to the Haredi community and is currently working on a budget expected to close Haredi politicians’ access to the coalition’s discretionary funds.

His plea bargain, which has come under public criticism as a sweetheart deal that is expected to drop an obstruction of justice charge, eliminates prison time for the lawmaker and includes a nominal fine of NIS 2,800 ($865). It also does not include the designation of moral turpitude, which would have blocked Litzman from Knesset office for seven years.

Leifer, a former principal of a Melbourne Orthodox girls’ school, is charged with sexually assaulting minors. Litzman is accused of using his former position as deputy health minister to block Leifer’s extradition to Australia, which ultimately came to pass in January of last year, 13 years after she fled to Israel to escape investigation.

Elected to the Knesset in 1999, Litzman was the de facto head of the Health Ministry for more than a decade, serving as either deputy or full health minister from 2009 until mid-2020.

Last year, Litzman stepped down as chair of the United Torah Judaism party after 18 years at the helm, with Moshe Gafni taking the lead. Litzman is now the party’s No. 2.

Yaakov Tessler, a member of the Vizhnitz Hasidic stream, is expected to replace Litzman, a member of the Gur faction, once he vacates one of UTJ’s seven Knesset seats.

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