A top Haredi politician sparked outrage Monday with a comment about Israel’s Eurovision representative, pop star Noa Kirel, during a debate on the budget in the Knesset.
MK Moshe Gafni, who leads the Degel HaTorah faction within the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) coalition party, made the comments while talking about his daughter, who he said had attended an underfunded Haredi educational institution that taught some core curriculum subjects in addition to Jewish studies.
“My daughter has not learnt about Noa Kirel; for that she doesn’t deserve funding?” said Gafni, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee.
“I’d donate some clothes so that [Kirel] would have,” Gafni said, to scattered laughter from within the plenum, an apparent reference to outfits Kirel wears that don’t meet ultra-Orthodox standards for women’s modesty.
There was no immediate comment from Likud’s May Golan, the minister for the advancement of the status of women, but opposition lawmakers and a leading women’s group were quick to criticize Gafni.
“While Noa Kirel represents the beautiful face of Israel to the world, Gafni makes sure that he reminds the world of the darkness we won’t allow here. Noa — you are amazing, strong and empowering. You’ll probably get along just fine without Gafni,” said Hagit Pe’er, head of the Na’amat women’s organization.
יו״ר ועדת הכספים, משה גפני, מציג את תקציב המדינה ואומר שגם לבת שלו מגיע תקציב למרות שלא למדה על נועה קירל ומוסיף ״הייתי תורם לה קצת בגדים שיהיה לה״ pic.twitter.com/xPJyrn5eCO
— דפנה ליאל (@DaphnaLiel) May 22, 2023
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman tweeted: “Gafni, just so you know, this is not Iran.”
Yesh Atid’s Meirav Cohen, a former social equality minister, said that Gafni’s comments showed his disdain for those who had studied core curriculum subjects.
“In the eyes of MK Moshe Gafni, core studies is learning about Noa Kirel. And the subtext: You secularists are empty,” tweeted Cohen.
“What will the hundreds of thousands of high-tech workers, the thousands of scientists, doctors, engineers and, in general, the millions of Israelis who, thanks to the core studies — mathematics, English, Hebrew and more — sustain the Israeli economy and the entire State of Israel? Those who work hard to support their families and support the ultra-Orthodox education system and the system of yeshivas and kollels?” Cohen said.
Yesh Atid lawmaker Merav Ben-Ari also attacked Gafni for his comments, noting that unlike the Haredi lawmaker, Kirel had served in the IDF.
“What does he even care what Noa wears? The great Noa Kirel built herself up with hard work from a young age, in the midst of all this she also joined the army and performed full military service, was an excellent soldier and finally also represented Israel in an amazing and inspiring way,” tweeted Ben Ari. “All the things that Gafni did not do, and does not know at all. Disgusting.”
MK Michal Woldiger of the far-right Religious Zionism party chided Gafni for his tone.
“Respectful discourse is important even when you disagree,” Woldiger tweeted.
Kirel came third in the European songfest, and last week met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told her he believed she should have won with her song “Unicorn.”
Out of NIS 13.7 ($3.8) billion in discretionary funds approved by the government on May 14, about NIS 3.7 billion is promised to be spent on increasing the budget for stipends at Haredi yeshiva student institutions, despite criticism that the community’s schools skirt full Education Ministry oversight and fail to teach core subjects to prepare students for the workforce, including math, science, and English.
Another NIS 1.2 billion is budgeted for private, non-supervised educational institutions, which also do not teach core subjects such as math and English.
It was the second time in a number of days that Kirel found herself in the headlines for reasons other than her singing.
“When Poland gives Israel 12 points [the Eurovision maximum], after almost the entire Kirel family was murdered in the Holocaust, it is a victory,” Kirel told Israel’s Kan news immediately after the competition.
Members of Kirel’s father’s family were killed at Auschwitz. She visited the death camp with her father in 2019.
Polish officials said Saturday that they would invite Kirel for a visit to learn about Poland firsthand after her “painful” comments about the country. The incident touched on a long-running dispute between Israel and Poland over Warsaw’s ongoing efforts to minimize Polish responsibility for the persecution and mass murder of Jews on its territory during the Holocaust.