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Ultra-Orthodox political leader says Israel is ‘in the midst of a religious war’

Rejecting poor economic performance warnings, Gafni says ‘economy is fine’

United Torah Judaism Knesset Member Moshe Gafni speaks at a UTJ election conference, Sept. 30, 2023. (Photo: Screenshot/X)

Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism spoke at a municipal election conference over the weekend and said the political crisis in Israel is a “religious war.”

“We are in a religious war. We got caught up in our watch in a war upon all that is holy and precious to us,” Gafni said.

Gafni’s comments came in reference to the recent protests over segregated Yom Kippur prayers at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on Monday. Both religious and secular leaders have traded blame over the fighting last week.  

“What we saw on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, we saw why they are intend, while people were praying Kol Nidrei [the prayer asking for release from all erroneous vows], they came from the protest group, as they call themselves” Gafni continued. “Pulling on the tzitzit of those praying there. We are in the midst of a religious war.”

Gafni said the issue was no longer the judicial reforms but the character of the coalition government as religious Jewish.

“We haven’t been talking about that [the reforms] for months already,” Gafni stated.

He also claimed that the ideological conflict is why members of his party haven’t given any interviews in recent months.

Gafni also disputed claims that judicial reforms and coalition agreements were detrimental to Israel's economy.

“I met with the leading economists many months ago, and they explained to me about the reform, what a difficult problem it is, and what might happen to the economy if it passed,” he said.

“By the way, quite a long time has passed since then and the economy is in excellent shape,” he claimed.

However, the economic figures released in September do not appear to support Gafni’s claim. They showed a widening fiscal deficit to 1.3% of the GDP during August compared to the previous months.

This was apparently due to increasing government expenditures as tax revenues declined. According to the Jewish Press, the coalition’s extra-budgetary spending has reached around NIS 13.7 billion ($3.6 billion), compared with NIS 2 billion ($530 million) under the former Israeli Bennett-Lapid government.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party responded to Gafni’s comments.

In a post to his Facebook page, Lapid wrote: “No, Rabbi Gafni, we are not in a religious war, because we have the same religion. We are Jews. All of us. Jews believe, and faith has all kinds of forms and ways.”

“We don’t need any guidance on how to be Jews. The Bible is ours, Jewish history is ours, the Kol Nidre prayer is ours, and for the attempt to incite a civil war, there is no atonement on Yom Kippur.”

Lapid continued his criticism of Gafni, saying: “There is no religious war in Israel, and it is forbidden for there to be one because it is the dream of the antisemites. There is a conflict over the character of Israel, over its values, and its democracy.”

Lapid also accused the coalition of harming the security of the country and its economy by supporting extreme interest groups.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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