Yaakov Litzman

Summary

Yaakov Noach Litzman (Hebrew: יַעֲקֹב נָח לִיצְמָן, born 2 September 1948) is an Israeli politician and former government minister. A follower of the Ger Hasidic dynasty, he heads Agudat Yisrael, part of the United Torah Judaism alliance, in the Knesset.[1] He previously served as Minister of Health[2] and Minister of Housing and Construction. Litzman resigned from the Knesset in June 2022, as part of a plea agreement in which he admitted criminally obstructing the extradition of alleged paedophile Malka Leifer.[3][4]

Yaakov Litzman
הרב יעקב ליצמן.jpg
Ministerial roles
2015–2017Minister of Health
2019–2020Minister of Health
2020–2021Minister of Housing & Construction
Faction represented in the Knesset
1999–2005United Torah Judaism
2005–2006Agudat Yisrael
2006–2008United Torah Judaism
2008–2009Agudat Yisrael
2009–2021United Torah Judaism
2021–2022United Torah Judaism
Personal details
Born (1948-09-02) 2 September 1948 (age 73)
Germany

BiographyEdit

Litzman was born on 2 September 1948 to Polish survivors of the Holocaust, in a displaced persons camp in Germany. When he was two years old, the family immigrated to the East New York section of Brooklyn, and then to the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, where he grew up. In 1966, at age 17, he immigrated to Israel, and continued his Torah studies.

Litzman is married, has five children, and lives in Jerusalem. He is quoted as saying that, "in some respects, I envy the low profile the Haredi community in the United States has been able to retain by staying out of politics". He also said that, in Israel, the media attention makes for misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the Haredi community.[5]

CareerEdit

 
Litzman in 2010

His first job was as principal of the Hasidic Beis Yaakov girls' school in Jerusalem. He became active in politics under the guidance of the then-Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Binem Alter. Over time, Litzman became known as the rebbe's right-hand man, a role he continues under the present Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Arye Alter. In 1999, the present rebbe asked Litzman to join the Agudat Yisrael faction of the United Torah Judaism list for the Knesset elections that year. He was subsequently elected, and became Chairman of the Finance Committee. He headed the UTJ list for the 2003 elections,[6] and was re-elected, again becoming the Chair of the Finance Committee. He has since served as the leader of the UTJ and Agudat Yisrael faction in the Knesset, in which he consults the Gerrer Rebbe on a daily basis.[citation needed]

Litzman was re-elected again in 2006, retaining his chairmanship of the Finance Committee, and for a fourth time in 2009, after which UTJ joined the new government, in which Litzman was appointed Deputy Minister of Health, despite having no medical training or expertise.[7][8] After Litzman was re-elected in 2013, UTJ were excluded from the coalition government. However, following the 2015 elections, he was re-appointed Deputy Minister of Health. Subsequently, Litzman appointed the first non-physician to serve as general-director of the Ministry of Health, in a move that was criticized by the Israel Medical Association.[9] Litzman was appointed on 27 August 2015, Minister of Health, after a court challenge filed by Yesh Atid.[10]

Litzman served on the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee from 1999 to 2001,[11] and as the Deputy Chairman of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee.[12] As part of the coalition agreement with the ruling government of Ariel Sharon in 2001, Litzman was appointed chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, a position he held until 2003, and again from 2005 to 2007.[citation needed]

He formally resigned as health minister on 26 November 2017, in protest of railroad repair work happening on the Sabbath,[13][14] becoming deputy health minister instead, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nominally held the office, with Litzman acting as de facto minister.[15]

When Netanyahu was forced to resign the health office, among others, due to the pending prosecution of three criminal cases against him, on 29 December 2019, despite a recommendation by Israeli police to criminally prosecute Litzman in two separate cases, he was again appointed health minister. The move prompted backlash, including an open letter to Netanyahu from Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler calling the promotion of Litzman "a slap in the face to the Australian Jewish Community, the Australian people, the community of Australian [immigrants] in Israel, and, most shockingly, to the survivors of Malka Leifer's alleged abuse".[16]

Coronavirus pandemicEdit

Litzman has served as minister of health from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and has been criticized for an "unprofessional handling" of the crisis.[17] Due to his exceptionally lenient attitude toward enforcing health guidelines in ultra-Orthodox communities from the start of the crisis,[18] major outbreaks appeared in ultra-Orthodox communities throughout Israel.[19]

In an interview in March 2020, Litzman stated: "I am sure that the messiah will come by Passover and save us the same way God saved us during the exodus, and we were freed. The messiah will come and save us all."[20]

Later in March, an open letter was penned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz by many heads of hospital departments and senior doctors, as well as medical officials, lamenting years of neglect that left the country's health care system at its lowest point during the time of coronavirus outbreak, and urged that Litzman be replaced as a result.[21]

On 2 April 2020, Litzman and his wife tested positive for COVID-19, while acting as Minister of Health.[22] He was the first member of the cabinet to be infected.[23] As a result, he self-quarantined, and began working from home. Israel's Shin Bet reviewed Litzman's phone after his COVID-19 diagnosis to track his movements, and the Health Ministry maintained that anyone who came into contact with him has been contacted personally.[24] Top ministers in Israel's government were furious at Litzman for flouting social distancing guidelines after he and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus, with senior officials accusing Litzman of putting his colleagues' lives in danger, while knowingly breaking his own ministry's safety rules regarding the virus.[25] Litzman was spotted praying at the home of a fellow member of his Hasidic sect three days after government guidelines went into effect barring such services. Additionally, after the guidelines had further intensified, Litzman was again spotted praying at a synagogue just outside his home.[26]

With the Thirty-fifth government of Israel, Litzman resigned from the Knesset as part of the Norwegian Law, and was sworn in as Minister of Housing and Construction.[1] On 13 September 2020, Litzman resigned as Minister of Housing and Construction, in protest over a nationwide coronavirus shutdown scheduled to begin over the High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, beginning on the first night on Rosh HaShanah, 19 September, for at least three weeks.[27] On 18 November, he was re-appointed as Minister of Housing and Construction.[28]

Plea deal, resignation and retirementEdit

In the runup to the 2021 Israeli legislative election, it was announced that Moshe Gafni would replace Litzman as leader of UTJ in the following Knesset.[29] After the election and with the swearing in of the Thirty-sixth government of Israel, UTJ found itself in opposition for the first time since 2015. For the first time in his political career, he was not chair of a Knesset committee, a minister or deputy minister, or leader of a party. He announced in December 2021 that he would not run for reelection to the Knesset, citing his advanced age.[30]

In January of 2022, Litzman signed a plea deal admitting that he had criminally assisted alleged paedophile Malka Leifer's attempt to evade extradition to Australia.[3] Several other charges against Litzman relating to his activities as health minister were dropped as part of the plea agreement. The plea deal required Litzman to pay a nominal fine and to resign from the Knesset, which he did on 1 June 2022.

Other actsEdit

Statement on LGBT rightsEdit

During a February 2016 discussion in the Knesset about Israeli health authorities becoming more sensitive towards LGBT people, Litzman compared LGBT people to the sinners who danced around the Golden Calf.[31][32]

Smoking regulationEdit

Litzman has been criticized over policies and statements that seemed to serve the interests of the tobacco companies, including hindering some efforts to curb cigarette ads. For example, in his first tenure as deputy health minister (2009-2013), Litzman opposed warning labels and stickers that depict the effects of smoking, despite their role in reducing the habit in other countries. Litzman argued that the images of dirty lungs and teeth aimed at discouraging children and youth from smoking were "unaesthetic", stating, "With the help of God, we won't approve this... We don't need to disfigure the State with such images."[33]

In his second tenure (starting 2015), Litzman was criticized for opposing legislation prohibiting tobacco advertising in newspapers. Litzman argued that such laws would bankrupt newspapers, which rely on the advertising revenue.[34] It was pointed out that Litzman had a conflict of interest due to his close association with ultra-Orthodox publications (Hamodia in particular) that rely on revenue from the many tobacco ads that they publish.[35][36] Specifically, Litzman had a particularly strong conflict of interest concerning Hamodia, due to the fact that it is published by his Agudat Yisrael party (part of UTJ), and employs his wife. A bill restricting the marketing of tobacco was finally agreed upon after other MKs threatened to vote against a bill restricting retail operations on Shabbat and Jewish religious holidays. However, Litzman stipulated that he would only agree to the legislation on the (unusual) condition that the ban would not include printed publications (ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to abhor the Internet, making printed publications their primary form of media, hence Litzman's primary concern).[37][38][39][40][41]

Malka LeiferEdit

Litzman made a plea deal on 27 January 2022 admitting to breach of trust for using his former position as deputy health minister to obstruct the extradition to Australia of Malka Leifer, the accused in the Adass Israel School sex abuse scandal.[42] He had attempted to obtain false psychiatric evaluations that would deem Leifer unfit to face trial in Australia.[43] Israeli police recommended on 6 August 2019 that Litzman be indicted for "fraud and breach of trust" (both related to the Leifer case), as well as bribery in another case.[44] In May 2021, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he will indict Litzman for obstruction of justice and breach of trust.[45]

United HatzalahEdit

Eli Beer, the president of Israel's United Hatzalah ambulance service, while hospitalized in serious condition in Miami after contracting the coronavirus, lambasted Litzman from his hospital bed for sidelining his medics by refusing to allow Hatzalah's 6,000 volunteers to play any role in assisting the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom with conducting virus tests. Litzman argued that Hatzalah staff were less professional.[46]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Staff writer (17 May 2020). "The ministers of Israel's 35th government". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  2. ^ Jacob Magid (29 December 2019). "Cabinet okays Litzman as health minister, drawing fury of Australia's Jews". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  3. ^ a b TOI Staff (27 January 2022). "Litzman signs plea deal in Leifer case, avoiding jail time and paying symbolic fine". Times of Israel. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  4. ^ Rubin, Bentzi; Marziano, Tal (1 June 2022). "Now it's official: Litzman resigned from the Knesset". Srugim. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  5. ^ Popper, Nathaniel (28 January 2005). "Brooklyn-bred Hasid Takes Position of Power in Israel". Forward, the Jewish Daily. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 17 September 2007.
  6. ^ UTJ list Israel Democracy Institute
  7. ^ "Dozens of senior doctors call for replacing Health Ministry director-general". Times of Israel. 24 March 2020. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  8. ^ Kerstein, Benjamin (8 April 2020). "Litzman Coronavirus Saga Shows Need for Israeli Political Reform". The Algemeiner. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  9. ^ Siegel, Judy (14 May 2015). "Ignoring criticism, Litzman nominates non-doctor to head Health Ministry". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  10. ^ "Litzman gets go ahead for health minister appointment". Ynetnews. 28 August 2015.
  11. ^ News 2001
  12. ^ News 2000
  13. ^ "Israeli minister resigns over Sabbath dispute". BBC News. 26 November 2017. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  14. ^ Kershner, Isabel (26 November 2017). "Sabbath Railway Work in Israel May Unravel Netanyahu's Coalition". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  15. ^ Kremnitzer, Mordechai (8 August 2019). "Israel's Health Czar, Accused of Aiding Pedophile, Knows He Can Do as He Pleases". Haaretz. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  16. ^ Magid, Jacob (29 December 2019). "Cabinet okays Litzman as health minister, drawing fury of Australia's Jews". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  17. ^ "Messiah Will Come by Passover, Says Israel Health Minister". Israel Today. 31 March 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  18. ^ Mualem, Mazal (1 April 2020). "Will COVID-19 reshape ultra-Orthodox leadership?". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  19. ^ "Virus cases in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem surge, stoking fears of 'wildfire' spread". Times of Israel. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  20. ^ "התפשטות הקורונה בישראל: שר הבריאות יעקב ליצמן בראיון מיוחד..." חמ״ל (in Hebrew). Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  21. ^ Yanko, Adir (29 March 2020). "Israeli doctors demand health minister be replaced by professional". Ynet. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  22. ^ Ayyub, Rami; Williams, Dan (2 April 2020). "Israel's health minister diagnosed with coronavirus". Reuters. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  23. ^ "Israel's Health Minister Litzman and his wife test positive for coronavirus". Times of Israel. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  24. ^ Jaffe-Hoffman, Maayan (4 April 2020). "Shin Bet completes review of Litzman's phone". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  25. ^ "Report: Top ministers furious at Litzman for flouting coronavirus rules". i24 News. 2 April 2020. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  26. ^ Magid, Jacob (2 April 2020). "Infected health minister accused of flouting rules, endangering Israel's leaders". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  27. ^ Hoffman, Gil (13 September 2020). "Litzman: The first domino? - analysis". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  28. ^ "Yaakov Litzman to be appointed housing minister — again". The Times of Israel. 16 November 2020. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  29. ^ Sharon, Jeremy. "Gafni to head UTJ, Litzman bumped to No. 2". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  30. ^ Rosenberg, David. "Former UTJ head and ex-minister Yaakov Litzman won't run for reelection". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  31. ^ "LGBT People Know That They're Sinners". awiderbridge.org. A Wider Bridge. 25 February 2016. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  32. ^ Harkov, Lahav (24 February 2016). "Knesset votes down LGBT rights bills, Litzman likens gays to sinners". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  33. ^ Fulbright, Alexander (13 February 2017). "Health minister: Cigarette warning pictures 'unaesthetic'". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  34. ^ "New Law in Israel Would Ban Tobacco Advertisements". The Algemeiner. 25 June 2018.
  35. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (15 June 2015). "Litzman opposes ban on tobacco adverts that feature in Hassidic newspapers". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com.
  36. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (21 March 2017). "MKs blast Litzman for allegedly protecting tobacco giant Philip Morris". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com.
  37. ^ Linder, Ronny (7 January 2020). "Why Israel Banned Tobacco Ads, but Not in Print". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 15 February 2020.
  38. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (10 May 2018). "NGO demands immediate probe into Litzman's behavior over smoking". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com.
  39. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (8 May 2018). "Comptroller blasts Health Ministry for poor management under Litzman". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com.
  40. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (10 January 2018). "Preliminary Knesset reading bars tobacco ads on web, but not newspapers". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com.
  41. ^ "איך השר ליצמן מקל על חברות הטבק?". mako (in Hebrew). 11 January 2017. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  42. ^ Landau, Noa (29 December 2019). "Netanyahu Appointing Minister Suspected of Aiding Malka Leifer Is 'Slap in the Face,' Says Top Australian Jewish Official". Haaretz. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  43. ^ "Israeli minister suspected of obstruction in Malka Leifer case". Australian Associated Press. 15 February 2019 – via www.theguardian.com.
  44. ^ Wootliff, Raoul; Magid, Jacob (7 August 2019). "Police recommend Litzman stand trial for bribery, aiding alleged pedophile". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  45. ^ "AG to indict Litzman for obstruction of justice, breach of trust in Leifer case". The Times of Israel. 27 May 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  46. ^ "United Hatzalah head, hospitalized with COVID-19, berates 'evil' health minister". The Times of Israel. 23 March 2020. Retrieved 3 April 2020.

External linksEdit

  • Yaakov Litzman on the Knesset website
  • Minister Litzman Wins Poll As Most Liked Minister
  • Poll ranks Health Minister Litzman higher than Netanyahu - Israel News - Jerusalem Post
  • "LGBT People Know That They’re Sinners" - AWiderBridge