The Yisrael Beytenu party on Wednesday accused Shas MK Yinon Azoulay of racism for his remarks against the party’s chairman Avigdor Liberman during a back-and-forth at the Knesset.
Addressing the Knesset plenum earlier Wednesday, Liberman said the Vilna Gaon — a vaunted 18th-century rabbi — studied math and astronomy in his spare time, in a rebuke of ultra-Orthodox schools that don’t teach Education Ministry prescribed core subjects.
Firing back, Azoulay called Liberman “the ignoramus from Moldova,” where Liberman was born and grew up.
“You have no right to talk about the Vilna Gaon,” claimed Azoulay.
Following the exchange, Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer urged Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana to remove Azoulay as chair of the House Ethics Committee.
“These are severely racist comments,” Forer said. “This committee is meant to act against comments like these and condemn them.”
Liberman, who champions secular rights, has long pushed for ensuring that ultra-Orthodox education institutes teach the core curriculum to better enable community members to join the workforce.
Last week the Knesset passed the national budget for 2023-2024.
NIS 1.2 billion ($321.3 million) is budgeted for private, non-supervised Haredi educational institutions, many of which do not teach core subjects such as math and English, while additional funds will go to the official Haredi education system, and for construction of buildings for religious purposes and supporting Haredi culture and identity.
Critics have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of going too far to appease ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties at the expense of the general public, with the country battling inflation and a high cost of living.