With Israeli lawmakers busy waging public battles and forming and breaking alliances ahead of a fifth election in under four years, one occasion on Sunday evening seemed to unite Israel’s political map, if just for a few hours: United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni’s granddaughter’s wedding.
The event, held according to ultra-Orthodox custom in Bnei Brak, was attended by politicians from all parts of the political spectrum.
Among those spotted at the festivities were Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli of the Labor party, Welfare Minister Meir Cohen and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, Yamina MK Idit Silman, and MKs David Bitan and May Golan of Likud.
Cohen noted the “common ground” that brought the diverse group of politicians under the same roof, writing on Twitter: “Meeting under the simple common ground of a new home in Israel. This [kind of] home or another, the important thing is that there’s another happy home in Israel.” He wished the Gafni family “many blessings.”
Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid also called Gafni to congratulate him on the occasion. It was the second phone call to take place between the two men since Lapid officially entered office on Thursday night.
Gafni’s UTJ, though part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc, is seen by some political commentators as a party that could potentially tip the balance in November’s elections.
נפגשים סביב המכנה המשותף הפשוט שלנו – עוד בית נאמן בישראל
בית כזה או בית אחר, העיקר עוד בית שמח בישראל
שפע ברכות למשפחת גפני החדשה, ולחברי ח״כ הרב משה גפני pic.twitter.com/D82VjEtdCT
— Meir Cohen – מאיר כהן ???? (@MKmeircohen) July 3, 2022
After the defection of Yamina’s Silman from the coalition in April, which began the process of its eventual collapse, Gafni welcomed her move, but said “the opposition has some reckoning to do before deciding who has the best chances of forming a government without heading to elections.” While Gafni later denied that the statement was directed against opposition leader Netanyahu, some considered it a sign of his waning support for the former prime minister.
Some, however, were not impressed by Gafni’s guest list.
Michaeli, who was filmed dancing hand-in-hand with the bride, Tamar Brecher, drew particular outrage from the Haredi public.
מרב מיכאלי רוקדת בחתונה של הנכדה של גפני pic.twitter.com/rmIcI6l6oC
— צליל לידרור Tslil Lidror (@TLidror) July 3, 2022
“For what reason is the partition put up if the women’s dancing is recorded and shared for the eyes of hundreds of thousands of men online?” prominent Haredi journalist Aryeh Erlich asked. “What happened to the value of modesty among the Haredi public?”
Fellow Haredi journalist Yishai Cohen added: “What message does Gafni send by inviting Michaeli as his guest of honor? Apparently, UTJ is suffering from battered woman syndrome.”
Haredi lawmakers also suggested that Gafni may have to pay a political price for inviting Michaeli.
“No one among us is going to talk to him today,” one unnamed UTJ official told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister publication.
“The damage [Gafni] has done to UTJ is huge,” the unnamed official added. “If he goes home, it will only benefit everyone. He has been getting on people’s nerves anyway lately.”
Coming to Gafni’s defense was UTJ MK Yitzhak Pindros, who said: “Yes, we invite political colleagues to happy occasions and we don’t call security if they, God forbid, start dancing.”
But Pindros also said that the Haredi public “will never forget and never forgive Michaeli… even if she joins the coalition [with Netanyahu] and even if she quits politics altogether.”
Over the past year, Michaeli has strongly advocated for public transportation on Shabbat, which Haredi parties strongly oppose. After failing to introduce reforms that would allow buses to operate on Shabbat, Michaeli has recently tried to promote a reform that would allow local authorities to operate taxi services on the Jewish day of rest.