Knesset member Yehudah Glick (Likud) was pressured by political leaders to go to the Knesset directly after the funeral of his wife on Monday to help the coalition secure a majority in a controversial vote, his spokesman said, in comments that were later confirmed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
Sa’adia Grodzinski told Galei Yisrael radio Tuesday morning that Glick had been asked to take part in a vote on the so-called mini-markets bill, which would shutter shops and convenience stores on Shabbat, despite the death of his wife hours earlier.
“There were such attempts,” he said. “I obviously won’t go into who and what and how but I can confirm it, and it really pains me.”
Following reports that Deri had been involved, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party issued an apology, saying that he was sorry “if I hurt my friend Yehudah’s feelings.”
Deri, the main proponent of the bill, confirmed that he had contacted the head of the Har Hevron Regional Council to ask him to check with the rabbi of Otniel, the West Bank settlement where Glick lives, “whether Jewish law could allow for Glick to leave the shiva in order to vote.”
Shiva is a seven-day mourning period after a Jewish funeral, which a person whose direct relative has died spends at home receiving visitors who offer condolences.
Only once the rabbi said that Glick could not attend did Deri agree to postpone the vote until next week, Hadashot TV news reported.
The timing of Monday’s funeral caused a mini-crisis in the government, with the coalition initially refusing to postpone the vote and the opposition saying it would not allow any of its lawmakers to bow out to offset Glick’s absence, even though such a move is a customary gesture of courtesy in such cases. With the coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party opposing the bill, Glick’s vote was necessary to ensure a majority.
Yaffa Glick, who died on Monday, had been in a coma for six months after suffering a severe stroke. She was 51.
Hours before the funeral, Glick took to Twitter to implore lawmakers not to turn his bereavement into a political battle.
“I beg of you,” he wrote, “that my dear wife’s funeral should not become the subject of a fight. Please increase love and positive energy.”
Grodzinski, Glick’s spokesman, told The Times of Israel that he was “disturbed” both by the pressure put on Glick to attend the vote and by attempts “to politicize this whole situation for short-term gain.”
But coalition chairman David Amsalem’s office hit back at Grodzinski and accused him of undue politicking.
“Why is he speaking about these things at all? Even if it happened, it’s not the role of a spokesman to talk about it,” strategic adviser Nimrod Sebah told The Times of Israel. “And why is he discussing it during the shiva? This isn’t the time for politics. If he was a good spokesman he would stay quiet.”
Still, Sebah didn’t deny that discussions had taken place about bringing Glick to vote.
“Even if someone raised the possibility, it was never put forward as a serious suggestion. There was no official request made,” he said. “No one would imagine telling Yehudah Glick that he needed to come. Respecting his loss is of course more important than any vote.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to say whether Benjamin Netanyahu had been involved in the efforts to get Glick to attend.
Likud MK Oren Hazan, writing on Twitter, said he would thwart any attempts to hold a vote this week with Glick in attendance, vowing to replace Glick at his home “in order to comfort the family” should Glick be summoned to vote.
“Have we gone mad? I will not allow it to happen,” he said.
The opposition’s decision Monday not to allow a parliamentary offset, often extended as a courtesy, was decried by ministers and senior members of the coalition, who accused the opposition of “losing their humanity.”
Hitting back, the opposition said the coalition could easily delay the vote to a later date.
Speaking at the Zionist Union weekly faction meeting, opposition chief whip MK Yoel Hasson also pointed to the fact that coalition MKs from Yisrael Beytenu were also refusing to offset Glick’s vote. “This isn’t about the opposition,” he said. “The coalition is responsible for the situation that was created. They are welcome to deal with it.”
The process of giving the coalition a pass by allowing it to retain the same majority margin — in Hebrew kizuz — is a commonplace gesture, but not a requirement, in the Knesset, frequently arranged between the coalition and opposition for lawmakers who are ill or have pressing social engagements, family commitments, and so on.
Even before Glick’s absence, the coalition struggled to muster a majority for the proposal. Glick himself was one of several coalition MKs — in addition to the Yisrael Beytenu party, Likud MK Sharren Haskel, and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria, Tali Ploskov, and Merav Ben Ari — to express reservations or outright opposition to the bill.
The bill came on the heels of a crisis between the government and its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners that saw Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party resign as health minister last month over his opposition to train maintenance conducted on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening through Saturday night.
Netanyahu quickly reached a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties under which the government would propose laws maintaining the status quo with regard to Shabbat observance in Israel.
The bill would grant the Interior Ministry the power to overrule local ordinances relating to whether businesses may remain open on Shabbat.
Though the bill would make an exception for mostly secular Tel Aviv, it could lead to stores in other places being forced to shut down for the Jewish day of rest. The measure came after the High Court upheld Tel Aviv’s right to allow markets to stay open on Shabbat.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.