National Union MKs Uri Ariel and Bezalel Smotrich have reacted furiously to a decision by the Religious Services Ministry to uphold a policy preventing representatives from Judea and Samaria from being selected for the electoral committee that chooses members of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
The council is a 17-man panel – 10 of whom are up for election – and is the decision-making organ of the Chief Rabbinate having broad powers.
Out of the 17 rabbis of the council, 10 are elected every five years by a 150-member electoral body including 80 municipal rabbis and 70 public representatives. The elections this year are scheduled to take place on September 3.
The current Law for the Chief Rabbinate (1980) does not stipulate that rabbis and public representatives from Judea and Samaria be included, and until now, they have not been present on the electoral committee for the council.
According to the Ministry of Religious Services, the Ministry of Justice has ruled that the law does not cover the Judea and Samaria region.
It appears that this year, representatives from those regions were initially selected to serve on the electoral committee but were subsequently removed during a recent meeting of an internal committee of the Ministry of Religious Services.
At the meeting, several ministry lawyers expressed support for including representatives from Judea and Samaria in the electoral committee, and to deal with the issue only if this decision was legally challenged.
The chairman of the committee agreed with this position, saying there was no reason to exclude representatives from the body; another lawyer said that anyone who can vote in Israeli elections should be able to be part of the electoral committee, too.
The ministry’s formal legal adviser said he sympathized with this sentiment, but that since the ministry’s legal adviser in 2013 ruled that they should not be able to be selected for the election committee, it was proper to not include such representatives for the moment.
He said, however, that the internal committee should seek a new legal opinion on the matter and only then make a final decision.
Smotrich said it was “chutzpah” that representation from Judea and Samaria was even an issue, and that he would request from the prime minister and other relevant ministers that the elections be postponed until the law is changed.
“The residents of Judea and Samaria are Israeli citizens and not fourth-class citizens, and we will not allow them to be discriminated against on the basis of their place of residence,” he said.
Agriculture Minister and National Union chairman Uri Ariel described the decision as “an unparalleled outrage,” and that he would work to rectify the situation.
Smotrich and Ariel’s outrage is somewhat surprising, however, since their parliamentary colleague MK Moti Yogev introduced legislation three years ago designed to change the Law for the Chief Rabbinate so that it would fully apply to Judea and Samaria as well – legislation that they should have been aware of.
The Ministry of Religious Services said in response that it has done everything it could to include Judea and Samaria representatives, including requesting an updated legal opinion, but that the Ministry of Justice insisted that this could only happen through legislation.