Rivlin Owes Nothing to the ultra-Orthodox - Except His Victory

For the ultimate disciple of Begin, ultra-Orthodox are natural allies; but in light of their sour and halting support, Rivlin doesn’t owe them a thing.

Emil Salman

At the end of his acceptance speech, president-elect Reuven Rivlin mentioned some of the Knesset members who had helped in getting him elected, including Eli Yishai and Yitzhak Vaknin from Shas as well as Yaakov Litzman from United Torah Judaism. Any perceptive observer would have noted the pale faces of Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and Degel Hatorah chairman Moshe Gafni, whom many could have considered until that point as the architects of Rivlin’s victory.

Arithmetically, the ultra-Orthodox parties (totalling 17 members, with one absent) apparently made a significant contribution to the election of Israel’s 10th president. Estimates are that ultra-Orthodox MKs contributed at least half of the 19 votes that wandered over to Rivlin between the first and second rounds of voting, and it’s possible that the winds blowing out of the rooms of the ultra-Orthodox factions encouraged other MKs to vote for him as well in the second round.

However, in practice and contrary to previous elections, the ultra-Orthodox will not reap the benefits. In 2000 Shas attained victory for Moshe Katsav and in 2007 it opened the President’s Residence before Shimon Peres. In 2014 it joined the bandwagon, along with United Torah Judaism.

Yishai, Vaknin and Litzman supported Rivlin openly and worked for his election. In contrast, Shas and most of the UTJ faction distanced themselves from Rivlin in recent months. Rivlin’s party denied his request to appear before the ultra-Orthodox factions at one of their meetings. The ultra-Orthodox wished to take revenge on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through Rivlin. They claimed that he cooperated in tabling anti-Orthodox legislation meant to increase the military draft of Orthodox men.

Shas gave its members a free hand in the vote. In the second round, Deri wavered in his decision on whether to assist Rivlin or Sheetrit. He did not want to risk openly supporting a contender who might lose. He was concerned that even with all six of the UTJ MKs, Shas couldn’t guarantee either side a victory. He also didn’t want to risk bringing into the open rifts within his party by imposing factional discipline and instructing them how to vote.

The faction did discuss the issue of which candidate was the more worthy. Neither had been a favorite in recent months, since both had voted in favor of the draft law. The faction weighed the religious aspect of the candidates, where the traditional Rivlin had an edge, as well as their origins, which suggested supporting Sheetrit with his Moroccan background. In the end, it seems that most Shas MKs preferred Rivlin.

Shas MK Yaakov Margi, who had openly supported Dalia Itzik, saying in closed meetings that he would never support Rivlin, asked at a meeting of the faction to be released from his vows. An ad hoc tribunal of three MKs declared him to be free of his earlier vows.

Although Rivlin did vote for the draft law, an insurmountable hurdle according to official ultra-Orthodox dogma, he is the ultimate disciple of Menachem Begin, who saw the ultra-Orthodox as his natural allies. Begin empowered them both politically and socially, harboring special affection for the Haredim and for tradition in general. As with Begin, for Rivlin too a kippah is always within reach. On Tuesday, in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall, it was whisked out right at the start of his speech when he quoted a religious verse attesting to his turning to God. This president was elected to a large degree with the help of the ultra-Orthodox, but in light of their sour and halting support, he doesn’t owe them a thing.