Analysis

Hoping to Be Repaid, ultra-Orthodox Parties Embrace Netanyahu Moments After Victory

By immediately supporting Netanyahu after the election, the ultra-Orthodox parties aim to lock Netanyahu in, keeping him from taking unilateral steps without first coordinating with them

Arye Dery celebrates the election results at Shas headquarters, Jerusalem, April 9, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The ultra-Orthodox embraced Netanyahu during this election campaign and declared their loyalty as soon as his victory became apparent - and now they are waiting to find out if their loyalty was worth it.

The results that came in late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning did not surprise the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, political network. Apparently, both Shas and its Ashkenazi twin United Torah Judaism increased their strength from six to seven Knesset seats each, based on the natural growth of this sector.

Ostensibly, this is a clear and preordained result, yet it represents a significant achievement, proving that the Haredi base remains stable and loyal to spiritual leaders.

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Leading rabbis, as well as party heads Arye Dery, Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, fought with determination during this campaign, out of concern that Haredi voters would slip away and vote for Likud, Hayamin Hehadash, Smotrich, Feiglin or even Kahol Lavan. The increasing number of “modern” Haredi men who serve in the army, work in high-tech, study at universities, and see themselves as Israelis who are ready to vote for and even join secular parties, has been troubling rabbinical leaders and ultra-Orthodox party chairmen.

United Torah Judaism put out a video in which Rabbi Kanievsky, a leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community, says that anyone voting for a secular party will end up having secular children. Shas issued furious text messages accusing Netanyahu of siphoning off voters. The party managed to staunch the outward flow of voters and retain its base, a significant achievement.

As far as Dery is concerned, his comeback is complete. He managed to root out cells of resistance and defeat the last party rebels, closing the circle with a complete takeover of the party that deposed him twenty years ago.

The remaining question is what to do with this political clout. One might suppose that the ultra-Orthodox would be the parties that could tip the scale, determining whether Netanyahu or Gantz forms the coalition – however they have already officially declared that they will back Netanyahu. They thereby stood by their statements throughout the election campaign, taking the calculated risk that they may be faced with the complex situation we are now in.

There are two aspects to this issue. The first is whether the Haredi parties' commitment to Netanyahu will meet the challenges of this new reality, and avoid succumbing to various offers by Gantz. The second, and more important aspect, is whether Netanyahu will reciprocate their loyalty. Will Netanyahu keep his promise to walk with them, hand-in-hand, or will he move to create a national unity government, leaving the ultra-Orthodox outside of the cabinet.

By immediately embracing Netanyahu after the election, the ultra-Orthodox parties aimed to ensure precisely that – to lock Netanyahu in, keeping him from taking unilateral steps without first coordinating with these parties. Now we must wait and see if their move succeeded.