Is Leifer scandal a blow for Litzman among voters?

Yaakov Litzman

FOR most politicians it would be a nightmare scenario – police recommending corruption charges soon before an election. But in Israel’s Charedi heartland, voters say the Malka Leifer scandal will not dint support for Yaakov Litzman. 

“I’ve heard about it but I don’t believe what the media and the police say,” Avraham Kibetz, 36, said. Here, on the streets of Bnei Brak, where Leifer lived for a stint, support for Litzman’s United Torah Judaism Party is strong, and mostly unshaken by suspicions against him. 

The party looks set win seven to eight seats in the election. While it could well be excluded from the next government if Blue and White wins, UTJ’s voters are optimistic that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud will win, their party will become part of the government, and Litzman will be Deputy Health Minister again. 

Police have stated they suspect that Litzman, Deputy Health Minister and a top-ranking candidate with UTJ, tried to “improperly influence” state psychiatrists who have played a key part in slowing down the extradition case against Leifer. 

Kibetz said that even if Litzman is found to have helped Leifer, he will not regret his decision to vote UTJ. “Even if it’s proven and he helped, it’s not serious,” he said. 

Eli, a 23-year-old Chassid from the Vishnitz sect, was convinced that it is “the media chasing after him” that has resulted in the Litzman investigation, not any wrongdoing. He said that the suspicions are based on “total nonsense”, and he is convinced that Litzman is a well-meaning man who tries to help people, and comes under suspicion because secular people don’t understand his altruism. UTJ can rely on his vote. 

Gedalia, who would not give his surname, said of Litzman that “whatever he did he did with good intentions”. He said that news developments do not impact his voting preferences, as he loyally follows the advice of UTJ-supporting rabbis.

Yehuda Leventson, 21, believes that something about the investigation into Litzman “smells bad”, and said that he does not have much faith in the police. But even if it turns out that Litzman broke rules, he had “no bad intention”. 

Leventson’s backing for UTJ is solid, he said, and any personal views on current affairs are irrelevant. His logic is that some rabbis do not permit their followers to vote in Israel, as it is a secular-run state, and as his rabbis let him vote, he has an imperative to back the party they choose. “My vote comes from their power, so if they say to vote a certain way, I do.”

In a Judaica store, shopkeeper Rafael Yomtov said he wants to vote for Likud or Yamina, but will be backing Shas – the Sephardic equivalent of the Ashkenazic UTJ – because his rabbis say so. He is convinced of Litzman’s innocence. “He’s a good man, there’s no corruption,” he said. 

As he discussed the election, customer Shulamit Lasri arrives and tells a long story about her younger secular days in show business, and her move to Charedi life. “Litzman to me is pure,” she said. 

Not everyone was so glowing about Litzman. Aviv Cohen, 36, can believe that the case against Litzman is “very real”, and said he doesn’t vote because he thinks politicians “just sit for the sake of their salaries”. 

Gavriel Norai, 36, said that he has stopped voting because he will not back a secular party but the Charedi parties “are terrible – they just want money”. 

Norai said that the case against Litzman constitutes a “chilul Hashem”, which means desecration of God’s name, adding that Leifer “needs to have punishment and she shouldn’t get help on the basis that she’s Charedi”.

NATHAN JEFFAY