After Netanyahu-Mofaz Deal, ultra-Orthodox Parties Must Contend With Waning Political Power

Shas is a middle-sized faction with 11 MKs in a coalition of 94, and United Torah Judaism’s situation is worse. Even without the Haredi faction, Netanyahu is left with 78 votes in the plenum.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Members of the Shas party and their spokespeople have been saying all morning long that they were updated during all stages that led to the agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz regarding a unity government. They want to say that everything is fine, Shas is part of the agreement, senior partners. But this is precisely what causes distress among the representatives of the ultra-Orthodox public: will Shas, the senior partner in the coalition, the party with four ministers in the cabinet, the one that brought about big developments, have to contend with mere updates?

Interior Minister Eli Yishai was part of the privy to the inner workings, and yesterday after midnight, when the dish was prepared, he was invited to the prime minister’s home for an update. After him, members of United Torah Judaism were updated in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone praised the establishment of the unity government, as if they had a choice. Shas and United Torah Judaism will try and enjoy a stable government, to make moves that sit atop the Haredi community’s list of priorities, such as housing, budgets for religious institutions and the appointment of Rabbis and rabbinical judges.

Eli Yishai and Shaul Mofaz.Credit: Asaf Lev

But Shas is currently a middle-sized faction with 11 MKs in a coalition of 94, and United Torah Judaism’s situation, with five MKS is worse. Even without the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu is left with 78 votes in the plenum.

Where does this leave the Haredi community? In a completely different place than they were used to over the last several years: the deciding factor, senior partners, Netanyahu’s favorite son. The question is whether any of this will be significant for Netanyahu and Mofaz’s promise to change the existing order as it relates to exemption for yeshiva members. Netanyahu told Yishai and Yaakov Litzman overnight that he wants them in his government, but everyone knows well that their bargaining power is decreasing.

Until Monday, Shas and United Torah Judaism assumed that setting early elections is good, at least as it relates to the Tal Law, and not because they delayed the date when a new law was to take its place. The MKs hoped that the controversy would be dragged out or buried in some public committee.

Now, the deadline is only two-and-a-half months away. Eli Yishai told Haaretz that he believes that “the proper formula will be found” which will not involve coercion. United Torah Judaism members said that they will not remain in a government that does not allow anyone who wants to study to get an exemption from military service. In a few months we will know whether all these declarations can coexist with what Netanyahu said during his press conference on Tursday, when he promised to make a “historic” decision over sharing the burden of civil duties, and to declare a move toward “tikkun olam” (healing the world), as Shaul Mofaz previously stated.

One word about Aryeh Deri, who has declared his return to politics over and over and is currently standing on the springboard, is hoping that he will be able to take part in the controversy over the yeshiva members. Deri can thank his good luck that he avoided announcing his new party in the way that Yair Lapid did last week. Nonetheless, the last few days have worn him down, as someone who is facing a complicated political entanglement with Shas and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The media has been dealing with the Deri riddle for the past three years, wondering how he will return to politics. Now it can continue its speculations: will he try to challenge Eli Yishai? Will he run for the Jerusalem municipality? What will he do with Yosef? All these questions are turning far less interesting. More than a year is left until the general elections, a period which could only deepen the exhaustion of a political player that has announced his return many times.

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