Spiritual leader of Haredi party opposes West Bank settlements, grandson says

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is not right-wing on matters of territory, doesn't believe entire Land of Israel must be part of Jewish state, according to spokesman Yaacov Kanievsky

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and his grandson Yaakov (Yanki) Kanievsky (L) at the former's home in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

A senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi and spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party opposes Jews living in West Bank settlements on the grounds that it is a provocation to Arabs, his grandson said, in a report screened by the Kan public broadcaster.

Yaacov (Yanki) Kanievsky, who acts as a spokesman and surrogate for his grandfather Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, widely acknowledged as the preeminent living Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox sage, made the revelation during private conversations in which he discussed the possibility of ultra-Orthodox parties joining the governing coalition. The elder Kanievsky is the spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party, which followed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the opposition.

“The rabbi has no problem with left or right. His position really isn’t to the right on the matter of the Land of Israel,” said the younger Kanievsky of his grandfather, referring to the Jewish nationalist ideology that all of biblical Israel should be part of the Jewish state.

“Quite the opposite,” he continued, “the rabbi repeatedly says to not provoke the Arabs and not to live in settlements.”

Kan obtained recordings of the conversations, held last week, and broadcast a segment on Monday. A full report on the conversations, including more of the recordings, was scheduled to be aired on Tuesday.

Talking with an unidentified person, Kanievsky was asked if the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim, would join the new coalition, a collection of left-wing, centrist, and right-wing parties, along with one Islamist faction, that ended Netanyahu’s more than 12 years in office. During that time, the Haredi parties were Netanyahu’s staunch allies.

“We would need to see what the offer is, what they are prepared to do,” Kanievsky said. “Let them talk about it.”

Yaakov Kanievsky, the grandson of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, during an interview in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on October 22, 2020. (Yaakov Nahumi/AFP)

During the coalition building process, he said, “no one propositioned us” and speculated that, at the time, the emerging coalition may only have been interested in ultra-Orthodox parties helping to oust Netanyahu rather than being members of the government.

“They checked how much we would oppose, they came and told us that we shouldn’t raise the tone [of objection] because we will need to cooperate,” the younger Kanievsky recalled. “But they never said come and be with us in the government.”

According to the report, Kanievsky said that the ultra-Orthodox parties might have joined the coalition if Avigdor Liberman, head of the fiercely secular Yisrael Beytenu party, had not objected. Liberman is the finance minister in the new government.

The coalition has the smallest possible majority in the Knesset, winning approval by 60-59 votes with one abstention, and has already run into difficulties passing legislation. The addition of the ultra-Orthodox parties would give it seven UTJ seats and another nine from fellow Haredi party Shas, but the MKs leading both these parties have firmly ruled out the notion of joining the coalition.

The Haredi parties have vowed to work with Netanyahu to bring down the new government, which will see Prime Minister Naftali Bennett rotate the premiership with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in August 2023, and repeatedly assailed its legitimacy.

Despite his grandson’s assessment, Rabbi Kanievsky has in the past reportedly expressed strong support for Israel holding on to the West Bank in the face of Palestinian demands for the territory as land for a future state.

In 2019, when then-prime minister Netanyahu revealed that the Trump administration peace plan would include Israel’s annexation of some of the West Bank, Kanievsky was asked by UTJ MK Yitzhak Pindrus if any concessions on territory should be made to the Palestinians, the Jerusalem Post reported at the time.

Kanievsky responded, “Tell [the US] that the Arabs should make concessions.”

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