March 25, 2023

United Torah Judaism Yitzchak Goldknopf on Saturday night told Kan 11 News: “We deserve to receive the treasury portfolio no less than someone who received 6 mandates does to be prime minister.”

He was referring to then Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, who served briefly as prime minister in a center-left coalition with Yair Lapid, while he, Goldknopf, would be making his demands to the presumed leader of a center-right coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu, but the demand is the same. And it came couched in a set of grievances as ancient as the Haredi status quo with all the Zionist governments of Israel since 5708:

“Each time they wouldn’t let us include the yeshivas’ budget in the basic budget so we would have to beg for it.” And unlike all the Haredi coalition partners of the past, he asserted: “If we are partners in the right-wing bloc, we want to be real partners.”

This is news. Historically, the Haredi parties did not seek portfolios in the governments they supported. They preferred Knesset committee chairmanships, like the Gur Hasid Goldknopf’s Lithuanian partner, MK Moshe Gafni, who spent years as chairman of the Knesset finance committee. Even when they did hold a ministerial post, they preferred to be deputy ministers – to stay away from voting on security and foreign affairs issues. Goldknopf’s predecessor, Yaakov Litzman only acquiesced to becoming health minister under legal pressure.

MK Gafni, who hasn’t been a great fan of Goldknopf’s since his appointment by the Gerer Rebbe, and refused for months to meet with him, told Haredi pundit Schneur Weber: “Rabbi Goldknopf does not yet have experience in the political arena. He hasn’t dealt with it until today. He was busy doing other important things.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, how you deliver a perfect Haredi insult.

Goldknopf, 72, is a macher of the Gur dynasty who served as secretary of the rabbinical committee for the sanctity of Shabbat, CEO of the Beit Yaakov and Beit Petahia chains of 80 kindergartens, as well as daycare centers, and schools. And unlike Gafni’s charge, he did serve a stint on the Jerusalem city council.

As head of the educational chain, Goldknopf has been accused several times, including by the State Auditor, of paying his female teachers NIS 1,300 less a month than other educational institutions. He was also reported to be forcing his employees to sign a contract depriving them of all tenure rights. He was also known to lay off his employees ahead of the summer vacation, only to rehire them in the fall as newcomers.

So, wait, maybe he has what it takes to be a finance minister?

Last week, Goldknopf told Radio Kol Hai: “We will demand what we deserve and aim to equate the rights of the workers and the children in the Haredi education system with those of the general education system. All the conditions of the education workers will be equalized with the non-Haredi sector’s budget.”

He would be a Haredi finance minister; with everything you’d expect of such an appointment.

And, according to his radio interview, Netanyahu is ready to play ball. “When I sat down with the future Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Goldknopf shared, “We talked about the education system and I said to him, ‘Look what’s happening here,’ and he answered me immediately, ‘I’ve learned very well that one can put one’s hand deeper in one’s pocket.’”

“I’m sure it means something,” Goldknopf declared. “We agreed for now that there will be no more discrimination in education.”

Finally, Goldknopf may have the right idea about easing the housing crisis in Israel: “We proposed the solution that the state would give away land for free and cancel the taxation on construction materials.”

It’s only what Israeli economists have been saying for decades, but, you know, maybe Finance Minister Yitzchak Goldknopf can make it happen.

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