In first for an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker

UTJ head said set to join security cabinet as he pushes for Haredi army exemptions

Yitzchak Goldknopf, a freshman MK, will reportedly hold seat on key sensitive panel; Yesh Atid MK says he’s asked AG to probe reports of alleged property impropriety

UTJ MK Yitzchak Goldknopf seen during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
UTJ MK Yitzchak Goldknopf seen during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism party leader Yitzchak Goldknopf, who entered the Knesset for the first time last month and is expected to become housing minister, will reportedly get a seat in the high-level security cabinet.

According to Hebrew media reports Thursday, it would be the first time a lawmaker from the Haredi party has served on the key panel, which makes sensitive defense decisions.

The report said Goldknopf’s spot is stipulated by the agreement UTJ reached with Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced Wednesday night that he had succeeded in forming a coalition.

As part of the agreement, the ultra-Orthodox party has been pushing for legislation to regulate exemptions for full-time yeshiva students from compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces.

Outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, responded to the report by saying that Netanyahu was “spitting in the faces of IDF soldiers.”

“The man [Goldknopf] who said that ‘it is more difficult to study Torah than to be a fighter on the frontlines’ is going to be in the security cabinet, and therefore for the first time the chair of United Torah Judaism, an anti-Zionist party that openly opposes military service, will sit on the committee that directly influences the IDF and the security forces,” Liberman charged.

Finance Minister, Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition to the legislation on military exemptions, UTJ has made a host of demands to firm up Orthodox control over religious matters and exert religious oversight on secular matters.

Various proposals include stopping energy generation on Shabbat and expanding gender-segregated beaches, both of which Netanyahu has publicly said he won’t agree to; increasing stipends for religious study; putting a Chief Rabbinate representative on any panel weighing permits for work on Shabbat; forming and funding bodies to provide answers to the public on questions of Jewish law; allowing hospitals to ban hametz, or leavened wheat products, on Passover; requiring more religious studies in the public secular school system; and weighing the closure of the new Reform department in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

Goldknopf is slated to be housing minister, and according to Wednesday reports, he owns a property in Jerusalem that was divided into five separate apartments without a permit. He denied he still has rights to the property but did not provide paperwork to show it had been transferred to anyone else.

According to the Haaretz daily, records show Goldknopf, who owns a number of properties, bought the apartment in 2013 for NIS 2.6 million ($750,000) and the municipal property tax registry shows it still listed in the name of his wife, Rivka.

Tthe newspaper said the 135-square-meter (1,500-square-foot) home — which has two floors and an attic area — has since been split into five separate apartments, each with its own front door, all located within the original premises. Municipal property tax bills for the original apartment are regularly paid and the lawmaker’s name also reportedly shows up in other documents stating his property rights.

Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with United Torah Judaism party leader Yitzchak Goldknopf in the Knesset plenum on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A statement to Haaretz on the UTJ leader’s behalf said the property “is not registered in Rabbi Goldknopf’s name” and that his rights to the property were “transferred and duly reported.” The statement claimed that “for technical and record reasons” his name has not been removed from the registry, without elaborating.

Yesh Atid MK Vladimir Beliak said Thursday he was submitting an urgent request to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to examine the allegations made in the Haaretz story.

Earlier this month, Goldknopf suggested that he does not see any housing crisis in the country.

“People are always talking to me about a housing crisis — I don’t know much about the Housing Ministry until now, so I don’t know if there really is a crisis,” Goldknopf said at a conference organized by the Walla news site.

Figures released last week by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed housing prices in October were up 20.3 percent compared to a year earlier, the largest year-on-year increase in recent memory.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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