Israeli Elections: Whither the Charedi Parties?
Shas could have been a crucial element of any possible coalition, had it retained 13 seats in the new Knesset. With the final tally dropping Shas to 12 and bringing Meretz up to 5, it is possible that Olmert can form a coalition without them. Certainly Olmert has no overwhelming need to bring United Torah Judaism into the government as well.
For its part, UTJ may be just as happy to have Shas carry the ball on negotiations over child allowances (though not over support for religious institutions), and to avoid the ideological conflicts sure to arise if Olmert pushes forward with his plans for civil marriage, expedited geirus for Russian immigrants, and a core educational curriculum.
One of the perennial rituals in the chareidi community is wondering why United Torah Judaism’s Knesset representation remains stagnant, despite the rapid growth of the chareidi community. This year will be no exception, despite the fact that UTJ increased its representation from five to six. The lowest ever turnout yesterday -– 63% — created a situation tailor-made for UTJ to pick up a seventh seat. In the past, chareidi neighborhoods have produced turnouts of 90% or above.
That was not the case yesterday. The chareidi turnout was only about 10% higher than the general figure. In part that was the result of a few large Chassidic groups deciding to sit out the elections, after their representatives were denied a realistic place on the UTJ list.
But a more general problem is that many in the chareidi community feel no personal identification with the components of UTJ – Agudath Israel and Degel HaTorah – or with their Knesset representatives, despite the very high calibre of those representatives as individuals. Voting is something chareidim do because the gedolim tell them to do. But for some, it seems, that is no longer enough.
Agudath Israel in Israel is not a grassroots movement, as it is in America. There are no conventions or dinners or even members. The party consists almost entirely of paid workers, each connected to an internal faction within the party. Many chareidim feel left out.
A British neighbor told me in shul a few weeks ago that he was not going to vote and he knew many other English-speakers who said the same thing. This fellow has lived in Israel for decades, sends his sons to yeshivos, davens in a Chassidishe shtiebel, and looks for son-in-laws who will stay in learning for a period of years. But he feels that he is viewed as a second-class citizen by the Israeli chareidi community because he works and speaks English. As he put it, the only time anyone notices him is at election times when they want his vote.
I don’t know how many there are like my neighbor, but he raises an issue that deserves further attention.