Traditional Religious Parties Scramble to Win Over 'New Haredim'

Shas and United Torah Judaism are trying to avoid losing the votes of working ultra-Orthodox Jews, many of whom are looking for political alternatives.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

One the eve of the Knesset election, the religious parties are ratcheting up their efforts to woo a large group of voters at the edges of Haredi society: Ultra-Orthodox Jews who work for a living. Members of this group – some who are studying for college degrees and others who are serving in the Israel Defense Forces – are known colloquially as the "new Haredim."

A recent survey of this varied group, which includes both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews and newly religious and life-long Haredim, found that it has a very high dissatisfaction rate with the traditional Haredi parties and their representatives.

The chairman of the Tov movement, Rabbi Chanoch Verdiger, said yesterday that his Haredi group will run as a party in the next Knesset elections and compete with Shas and United Torah Judaism. Tov – which previously operated only at a municipal level – attempts to offer Haredi society alternatives in education, the army and work.

The heads of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are trying to reach the new Haredim in a variety of ways to keep them from voting for other parties – or not voting at all. Many of those identified with the new Haredim say they will vote for parties such as Otzma Leyisrael, Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi, Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak's Hakoach Lehashpaia and Rabbi Chaim Amsallem's Am Shalem – in addition to the traditional choices of Shas and United Torah Judaism. Am Shalem recently set up a special campaign headquarters to aggressively target the new Haredim, emphasizing Amsallem's policies in favor of professional training and work on one hand and distancing the party from his recent controversial comments, including about public transportation on the Sabbath, on the other.

United Torah Judaism Knesset members Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev recently held rallies and home meetings for groups of working ultra-Orthodox voters who questioned whether they would continue to vote for the party. In an interview with the Haredi newspaper Mishpacha, Shas leader Arye Deri spoke of the integration of the new Haredim into ultra-Orthodox society.

At the same time, the three Shas co-leaders have held intensive negotiations with the Tov movement, which represents a large section of those Haredim who have already chosen to distance themselves from the ultra-Orthodox parties. But those negotiations failed to bear any fruit for Shas. Shas refused to approve an agreement that included the principle of encouraging Haredim to work and study for academic degrees. In response, Tov called on its supporters to "vote for parties whose representatives are committed to the full existence of the world of Torah without damaging the status of yeshiva students, and who also support full commitment to the needs of the entire Haredi community, and all of its parts."

A survey Tov recently commissioned by the Geocartography Knowledge Group consultancy found that 41 percent of Haredim think Haredi families who work are discriminated against by the ultra-Orthodox education system. Thirteen percent said they would have voted for Tov if the movement had run in the most recent national election – as it has done successfully in municipal elections in the cities of Beit Shemesh and Beitar Ilit.

The central Hassidic faction of the ultra-Orthodox community represents another threat to the ultra-Orthodox parties yesterday. Over 10,000 Haredim participated in a huge rally in Shabbat Square in the heart of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. The rally was called to "strengthen and support the schools and Torah institutions that swear off the state budgets, and for those who have not bowed down to the impure idol of the election that are forbidden by the greatest sages of the generation."

The rally was attended by all the factions that are part of the extremist groups of the Edah Haredit, and was led by the Admor of Satmar, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, one of the two heads of the Satmar Hasidic sect, who came from the United States for the rally. He said the State of Israel is "this generation's Amalek, and the Zionists are the offspring of Amalek." He also called on people not to vote. This is the rabbi's first visit to Israel since he was appointed to his post a few years ago, and he brought with him millions of dollars to distribute to those religious and educational institutions that swear off receiving state funding – and in doing so keep their "education pure."

Satmar representatives said that United Torah Judaism should adopt the consistent policy of the zealots, that whoever evades military service must also swear off government funds and other benefits from the state.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.Credit: Pierre Torgman

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