Shin Bet boosts security for religious affairs minister threatened over reforms

Death threats made against Matan Kahana as he pushes to make deep changes to Israel’s religious status quo

Yamina MK Matan Kahana arrives for a meeting with Yamina party leader Naftali Bennet, at his home in Ra'anana, on June 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yamina MK Matan Kahana arrives for a meeting with Yamina party leader Naftali Bennet, at his home in Ra'anana, on June 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Shin Bet security service informed Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana on Sunday that his level of security was being raised and that from now on he would be accompanied by a personal bodyguard, the minister’s office said in a statement.

The announcement, the statement said, came following fresh death threats made against Kahana as he pushes ahead with profound reforms of Israel’s religious services that are deeply unpopular with the country’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Among Kahana’s plans is to overhaul Israel’s kashrut supervision process, revamp local religious councils to ensure more roles for women, reform the vexatious issue of conversions to Judaism, and enable the ultra-Orthodox community to more easily enter the workforce.

The threats against Kahana appear to be part of a scathing, months-long online campaign launched against Kahana’s Yamina party for joining the new government that ousted Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 consecutive years in power. Netanyahu’s Likud and allied factions have accused Yamina of betraying the right in joining a coalition that includes other right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, plus an Islamist faction.

Earlier this month, coalition whip MK Idit Silman, also from Yamina, filed a formal complaint with the Knesset Guard after she said she was physically attacked by a man at a gas station in the central city of Modiin.

Silman also filed a formal notification with the Knesset Guard of the threats made against her on various occasions since September 25 and throughout October in the build-up to a vote on passing the state budget.

MK Idit Silman, chair of the Knesset Health Committee leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

After the opposition, including Netanyahu himself, raised doubts about Silman’s account, the coalition whip appeared Saturday on Channel 12 news to clarify the incident and insist she was telling the truth.

“A man grabbed me after I was refueling at a gas station in Modiin and just slammed me into a car. At that moment I realized how dangerous the words ‘traitors’ and ‘thieves’ can be, and can eventually cost human life,” she said.

In June, as the final details of the coalition agreement that ousted Netanyahu were being negotiated, Silman claimed that she had been followed by another vehicle while driving.

At the time, Bennett and Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, who is the interior minister, both received increased security following threats.

Meretz member Tamar Zandberg, the environment protection minister, was forced to flee her home at one point due to threats made against her and her daughter.

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