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.

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7 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Parties should speak and act as if they were ready to step up to direct national policy. The religious parties have to express their visions and action plans for the nation as a whole, to show that their candidates are more than lobbyists.

    Closer relations between the leadership and the constituents would be easier to accomplish if Knesset members were elected by district. The at-large election system fosters a lack of accountability.

    The voter also has a personal responsibility to become informed and involved.
    “Some folks don’t understand it. That’s why they don’t demand it.”

  2. david says:

    Wasn’t there an effort a little while ago to form a charedi working people’s party? What ever happened to that?

  3. Yisrael Moshe says:

    If the representative of the Chassidic groups had a lower spot on the list, shouldn’t that have encouraged the Chassidim to vote?

  4. Toby Katz says:

    Maybe the child support payments should be phased out.

  5. Perplexed says:

    Toby Katz
    “Maybe the child support payments should be phased out”
    They started phasing them out how is is this going to help anything?

  6. Perplexed says:

    “Voting is something chareidim do because the gedolim tell them to do. But for some, it seems, that is no longer enough. ”

    I find this to be very insulting.

    If this is a true statement then most people are not Charedim.

  7. David Brand says:

    As to Israeli Charedim feeling left out, I think another factor is that there’s a feeling that the only people who really benefit from Israeli politics are those who have “Proteksia”. Yet another might be the lasting effects of Socialism, where a very few made the rules for everyone else. That makes individuals feel that they have a very small ability (if any)to have any type of impact. Of course, we do not have the same ideas in America, and it is more natural for us to feel an obligation to get involved and to feel that we can make a difference by participating.

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