Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Parties End Rift, Agree to Remain Together Ahead of Upcoming Election

Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah to sustain cooperation as United Torah Judaism ■ Following departure of Bennett and Shaked, Habayit Hayehudi considering scrapping primaries to save money

Members of Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah sign an agreement to remain together ahead of the upcoming election.
Degel Hatorah

The two ultra-Orthodox parties, Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah, on Wednesday decided to maintain their partnership and run together on a joint slate as United Torah Judaism. Habayit Hayehudi’s central committee will convene on Thursday to decide whether to cancel primaries for the party’s leadership and Knesset ticket.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to share power equally within the joint faction and agreed on the conditions of their alliance for the next two Knesset terms. In the next Knesset, Agudat Yisrael will take the first, third and fifth positions, and so on. Degel Hatorah will take all the even numbered slots. The joint party will continue under the leadership of Yaakov Litzman, the deputy health minister.

>>Read more: Everything you need to know about elections in Israel but were afraid to ask

Degel Hatorah leader Moshe Gafni said that United Torah Judaism can now start its election campaign. “We are the first faction to end its internal debate. We can now, with the help of God, embark on the election with an equitable agreement,” he said.

Litzman commented that United Torah Judaism will win many more seats in Knesset this time around, with the help of heaven.

Ahead of the election, Degel Hatorah, the Lithuanian party, had wanted a change in the United Torah Judaism roster, following its success in local government elections in some cities where it ran separately from Agudat Yisrael, the Hassidic party.

Over the years, the representatives of Agudat Yisrael had manned the first position on the joint roster, and have taken the most important political positions. Degel Hatorah representatives felt slighted and insisted that a majority of the united list’s voters came from its ranks. 

In the latest local elections, the Degel Hatorah leadership decided that the party would run on its own in some places, including Jerusalem, where they won twice as much representation as Agudat Yisrael.

With the departure of Habayit Hayehudi's former chairman and number two, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, to form a new party, and the party itself saddled with substantial debt, the remaining Habayit Hayehudi leadership favors scrapping the primaries to save money.

Instead, the party has proposed that the central committee appoint a search committee to choose the next party chairman. The central committee would then choose the party's Knesset slate.

The proposal states that a woman must be in third Knesset slot if she doesn’t win the first or second. The proposal includes 21 recommendations by the party leadership of members who would be appropriate for the search committee.

Party sources said the central committee largely agrees on scrapping the primaries, given their high costs, but not everyone agrees with the names proposed for the search committee. Thus that part of the proposal isn’t expected to pass smoothly.