Rabbi Haim Druckman: Israeli settler advocate and far-right spiritual leader dies at 90

Rabbi Haim Druckman: Israeli settler advocate and far-right spiritual leader dies at 90
Rabbi Haim Druckman was a mentor to Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich, chief of Israel's extreme-right Religious Zionism party.
4 min read
26 December, 2022
For decades, Haim Druckman was the most important figure in the religious Zionist movement [GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty]

Rabbi Haim Druckman, mentor to far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich, advocate of Jewish settlements, and spiritual leader of the religious Zionist movement in Israel, died on Sunday aged 90 after contracting Covid-19, a Jerusalem hospital said.

For decades, Druckman was the most-important figure in the religious Zionist movement, which represents roughly 12 percent of Israel's Jewish population. He was one of the founders of Israel's settlement movement.

"The Hadassah hospital announces with sorrow the death of rabbi Haim Druckman," the facility said in a statement, adding that he had been hospitalised for 10 days. Hadassah had said in a previous statement that Druckman had contracted Covid-19. The hospital did not provide a cause of death.

The religious school he presided over said he was 90 years old.

Druckman, who was awarded the Israel Prize in 2012, was a mentor to Smotrich, chief of the extreme-right Religious Zionism political party.

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Smotrich is set to be finance minister in incoming premier Benjamin Netanyahu's new far-right government.

"The Jewish people have lost one of the spiritual giants of his generation, a just [person], an educator, a man who dedicated his life to the Torah, to the Jewish people and the land of Israel," Smotrich said in a statement.

Druckman was a major proponent of settler land grabs in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula after Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Settlements are illegal under international law and are viewed by most of the international community as a key barrier to peace in Palestine and Israel.

Druckman served several terms as a member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, with the forerunner of today's Religious Zionism party, a key ally of Netanyahu.

He acted for a long time as spiritual leader to religious nationalist politicians on Israel's far right.

Druckman called for the annexation of the occupied West Bank and its approximately 2.5 million Palestinians who live under Israel's illegal occupation alongside around 500,000 Jewish settlers.

Palestinians consider the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip to make up their future independent state. The United Nations views these areas as occupied Palestinian territory.

Druckman called on Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to dismantle settlements during Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and made similar remarks about Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

He advocated that Jewish religious law govern the state of Israel, a position shared by his followers.

"There's no problem whatsoever with a state run by Jewish religious law," he told newspaper Israel Hayom in one of his final interviews last month.

"What you do in your home is your business, but outside – this is a Jewish state."

Netanyahu expressed his condolences to Druckman's family, saying that Israel "has lost a great spiritual leader".

"I have lost a personal friend whom I held in great esteem," he added.

Born in what was then Poland in 1932, Druckman escaped deportation during World War Two and in 1944 migrated to Palestine, which was under British mandate.

He was a student of Zvi Yehuda Kook, whose movement founded settlements after Israel began occupying the West Bank in the 1967 war. Druckman was considered one of Kook's successors from the 1990s.

Ties with extremists, rape-accused rabbis

As a serving MK in 1988, Druckman penned a letter of support to a released member of the Jewish Underground terrorist group convicted for his role in a deadly terror attack on Hebron's Islamic College.

The 1983 attack killed three Palestinian students and injured dozens more.

In 2012, Druckman organised a farewell party for Zvi Strock, the son of Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock who was convicted of torturing a Paletinian teenager, according to news website The Times of Israel.

In 2019, the rabbi spearheaded a fundraising campaign for a settler who was charged with killing a Palestinian mother of eight.

Druckman also caused controversy by standing with rabbis who had been accused of sexual abuse.

In 1999, Israel’s state attorney slammed the rabbi for failing to report sexual abuse by Ze'ev Kopolevitch, the dean of Netiv Meir Yeshiva.

Years later, Druckman admitted that he should have reported the abuse, however went on defend and associate with other rabbis accused of sexual abuse.