Ultra-Orthodox minister quits Blue and White, cites party’s anti-religious direction

Among the reasons cited for the move are attempts to besmirch her reputation and that the party is turning against the ultra-Orthodox to curry votes.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Blue and White Minister of Diaspora Affairs Omer Yankelevich announced Tuesday that she will not run in next month’s elections, marking the end of her run as the first-ever haredi woman to sit in Israel’s Cabinet.

In her statement, Yankelevich said that she had told party leader Benny Gantz that she wanted to quit a month ago, that he had asked her to reconsider, and that she was going with her original decision although she appreciated the good that the party had represented.

“The social… mix of the party was significant for Israeli society,” she wrote, and she had identified with the “unifying vision” that Gantz presented, with representatives of the Right and Left, secular and religious.

Although she “did not always find it easy,” the former social activist said she tried “to reach agreements, to find the positive side and… promote significant action, especially for the advancement of women and minorities.”

But she has “paid a heavy personal price. Baseless lies were spread about me,” she wrote. These involved accusations that the married mother of five has had romantic affairs, including with Gantz.

Party sources told Israel Hayom of a different reason for her decision – that she did not like the direction that Blue and White was headed in its efforts to cross the electoral threshold. She had fiercely opposed the party going negative in its campaigning, they said, and refused to participate in a series of such video spots.

Kan News reported Tuesday evening on yet a third reason, saying that she had told her confidants, “I can’t continue in this party. It’s going in an anti-haredi and anti-settler direction.”

As a supporter of Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, Yankelevich was angered when Gantz blocked a government decision to regulate dozens of young settlements, which would allow them to receive access to better security and a steady water and electricity supply.

Gantz has also been a fierce proponent of increasing fines for those who violate the lockdown restrictions put in place to combat the coronavirus. The law to double the fines was finally passed last week, after Gantz warned that he would not agree to any extension of the current lockdown unless the vote on the bill was held.

In his Knesset speech before the vote, he said that a huge funeral on Sunday for a leading haredi rabbi showed that the authorities were not enforcing the rule against mass gatherings with the same force in ultra-Orthodox communities as they did in secular ones.

According to Maariv, Gantz had offered Yankelevich the fourth slot on his party’s list, which would ensure her a place in the Knesset even if Blue and White barely crossed the electoral threshold. But party sources told The Jerusalem Post that he was not going to put her in a realistic spot, and that this was the reason for her decision to quit.