As part of its ongoing campaign to boycott the new coalition, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties have pledged not to cooperate, “directly or indirectly,” with members of their community working as political advisors in government ministries.
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In a joint statement from lawmakers of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties released on Monday, they said they would not work with any ultra-Orthodox people who work with these ministries and ministers while "trying to drive a wedge in the wall of common struggle.”
Speaking with Radio Kol Hai on Wednesday, Shas chairman Arye Dery explained that ultra-Orthodox political consultants were trying to legitimize the new government, and called the boycott effort a “general public struggle.”
“We will not work with them anymore and condemn them,” he declared, only days after Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a member of Shas’ ruling Council of Torah Sages, called on all ultra-Orthodox institutions to cut ties with the government.
Dr. Gilad Malach, who researches the Haredi community at the Israel Democracy Institute, believes that the ultra-Orthodox political establishment is frightened of losing their power and influence after years of controlling the relationship between their community and the government.
Calling the letter “more of a declaration” than an active ban, Malach explained that ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are in a “phase of fear and anger” and are grappling with the fact that Haredi advisors not answerable to them may wrest away control of the government agenda when it comes to their community.
Over the past decade, ultra-Orthodox parties have become staunch allies of recently ousted Prime Minister Netanyahu. In return, they enjoyed a continuing monopoly over several issues of domestic policy related to religion and state, as well as an exemption for ultra-Orthodox men from Israel’s mandatory military draft.
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Shas and UTJ’s presence in the government gave them significant power to direct funding to their institutions and limit governmental control over their community’s affairs. However, the appointment of hardline secularist Avidgor Lieberman as Finance Minister, at the same time as the ultra-Orthodox have been relegated to the opposition, means that continued government funding of Haredi priorities is now in question.
Both parties have railed against the new government as anti-religious, claiming that it would endanger the Jewish identity of the state of Israel and shatter the religious status quo which has been in operation for over 70 years.
“In essence, the MKs from Shas and UTJ are doing everything to hold the line and engage in as much opposition to the government as they can,” Israel Cohen, a prominent ultra-Orthodox political commentator, told Haaretz.
According to Cohen, if the government survives the next few months, it will be harder for many ultra-Orthodox political consultants to stay away, but if “the government seems like it is going to fall, nobody will take the chance for a few months of work.”
One consultant who does not appear to be deterred is Itzik Elrov, a social activist turned communications and strategy consultant, who most recently worked on the Labor party’s election campaign.
“From my conversations with some ultra-Orthodox politicians, their claim is that in such a period there are all kinds of machers" – power brokers – "and activists who are trying to bypass the ultra-Orthodox politicians. This is the main concern,” he told Haaretz.
“For ultra-Orthodox politicians, a government without them is not a simple challenge. Soon, the budget will come and with it economic decrees, and the public is going to feel it in their pockets and will demand answers, so the overarching goal at the moment is mainly to hold the line.”
Ironically, Elrov stated, “during periods when the ultra-Orthodox were in the opposition, the ultra-Orthodox advisors [working for the government] became the greatest friends of the ultra-Orthodox politicians, who used them to soften the decrees.”
“I estimate that this will also be the case this time,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to 'boycott' a professional consultant whose help you will need tomorrow to solve some problem.”
According to the ultra-Orthodox Behadrei Haredim, UTJ MK Meir Porush did not sign the document, insisting that no decision be made before being approved during a faction meeting.
JTA contributed to this report.