Haredi Factions Clashing Over UTJ List

Bickering ultra-Orthodox factions have until Sunday to put aside their differences and draw up a joint Knesset roster for the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party before the deadline for submitting the list ends at midnight that day.

The rabbinical dynasties and their adherents that control the party are currently at loggerheads over the makeup of the list and whether it will include current chairman and head of the Knesset Finance Committee, MK Yaakov Litzman.

Representatives of Degel Hatorah and Agudat Israel, the UTJ's two main factions, met yesterday to try to resolve the dispute concerning Degel Hatorah's demand to increase its clout in the party coalition. The faction, which represents the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi community of mostly Lithuanian origin, wants to safeguard its future stake in benefits obtained by the UTJ from the government following the elections - if and when it joins the coalition.

Its senior representative MK Moshe Gafni yesterday insisted that the current arrangement that Agudat Israel gets first pick over ministerial positions offered to the UTJ be reversed and Degel Hatorah gets preference.

Faction officials have said in recent days that they are seriously considering absolving UTJ and running on a separate ticket. Recent polls carried out on behalf of Degel Hatorah have indicated that it would probably garner the minimum number of votes needed to be elected to the Knesset.

Degel Hatorah was formed in 1988 as a splinter group from Agudat Israel. It garnered two Knesset seats in the elections that year, the only time it has run as an independent party since its inception. Since then it has participated in elections as part of UTJ, which was established based on an agreement that Agudat Israel was first among equals. Relations between the two factions have recently deteriorated over what officials called "policy issues," and after a bitter dispute over the selection of the ultra-Orthodox's favored candidate in Jerusalem's municipal election.

In recent weeks disputes have emerged within Degel Hatorah relating to the appointment of its third candidate on the faction's roster. At the same time Agudat Israel is also being gripped by internal bickering over the selection of a new candidate to replace the current Ger Hasidic dynasty representative MK Litzman, who has announced he will not run for reelection. However, yesterday the veteran lawmaker told Haaretz that he will only make his final decision whether to step down on Sunday, after he has discussed the issue with the Ger community leader, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter.