Ultra-Orthodox party pans Netanyahu for issuing credit rating statement on Shabbat

Housing minister Goldknopf of United Torah Judaism calls PM’s response ‘inappropriate’; Finance Committee chair says it was ‘totally unnecessary’ and a colleague laments ‘disgrace’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, right, arriving for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 27, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, right, arriving for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 27, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night after he issued a statement before the end of Shabbat on US ratings agency Moody’s downgrading Israel’s credit.

It is relatively unusual for officials to publicly engage in nonemergency state business during Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, which runs for roughly 25 hours, beginning on Friday evening.

Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, leader of the United Torah Judaism party and chair of its Agudat Yisrael faction, complained in a statement that the prime minister’s response on Shabbat was “inappropriate. It wasn’t a life-saving matter, it wasn’t an emergency situation, and it wasn’t a response that could not have been published after the conclusion of Shabbat.”

Moshe Gafni, chair of Degel Hatorah, the other faction within UTJ, also criticized Netanyahu, saying at a local elections conference in Bnei Brak, “I don’t understand why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to put out a statement on Shabbat. What was the need? It was totally unnecessary.”

MK Yisrael Eichler of UTJ called it a “disgrace and humiliation for the country.”

Gafni, who chairs the Knesset Finance Committee, said in his own response to the Moody’s announcement that it “is not good, but the Israeli economy is a strong economy, I said it in the past and I say it today. Even in this difficult time when there are large expenses for the war, Israel is coping and will know how to cope with it, with God’s help.”

Knesset Finance Committee chair MK Moshe Gafni during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

On Friday, Moody’s downgraded Israel’s credit due to the impact of its ongoing war with the Hamas terror group in Gaza, lowering it by one notch from A1 to A2.

The ratings agency also lowered its outlook for Israel’s debt to “negative” due to “the risk of an escalation” with the far more powerful Lebanese terror group Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border.

The credit decision had been widely expected, but the rating agency’s move to also lower its outlook to “negative” came as something of a surprise, raising red flags about confidence in the government being able to keep the economy afloat as it takes on more and more debt to pay for the war.

Israel’s hardline coalition has been criticized for failing to shift funding priorities to help pay for the war effort. The government has opted for across-the-board cuts, rather than jettisoning ministries that are widely deemed superfluous, and has left in place discretionary funds made available to political allies under deals reached in coalition talks over a year ago. Ultra-Orthodox parties in particular have been criticized for continuing to insist on money to fund educational institutions that do not meet core curriculum requirements.

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a rare statement issued over Shabbat, Netanyahu played down the Moody’s decision.

“The Israeli economy is strong. The rating downgrade is not connected to the economy, it is entirely due to the fact that we are in a war,” the premier said.

In his own statement after Shabbat, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denounced the Moody’s rating as an “entirely a political manifesto based on a pessimistic and unfounded geopolitical worldview, which reflects a lack of confidence in Israel’s security and national resilience, as well as an apparent lack of confidence in the righteousness of its path in the face of enemies.”

The war in Gaza was sparked after the devastating Hamas-led onslaught on October 7, in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 as hostages into the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel launched airstrikes and a ground offensive aimed at toppling the Gaza-ruling Hamas and returning the hostages.

According to the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza, at least 27,947 people in the enclave have died, an unverified figure that does not differentiate between combatants and civilians and is believed to include Palestinians killed as a consequence of errant missiles fired by terror groups in the Strip.

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