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The anti-Netanyahu Protesters Can’t Rely on the ultra-Orthodox

Uzi Baram
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews taking part in the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 29, 2020.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews taking part in the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 29, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Uzi Baram

For a moment I saw the joy in the demonstrators’ faces – “The Bratslav Hasidim are joining us too!” And yes, it was impossible to mistake the sincere fury of the Bratslavers. Still, in the next election they’ll turn out for Benjamin Netanyahu.

How can I be so sure? Well, the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim, have never been with us. Both before and after the founding of the state, the Haredim never went with the left or center unless they had no other choice – for example, during Yitzhak Rabin’s second term.

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All those preaching tolerance and mutual understanding in that connection fail to understand that the Haredim (mainly the Ashkenazim) trample every liberal value such as equal rights, democracy and pluralism. They have a solid and profound ideology. It’s true that there’s also a pragmatic approach, but the basic preference for the right wing is eternal.

Even when the National Religious Party entered the “historic partnership” with Labor, that was due to constraints. One leader of the Labor movement used to say that the National Religious Party wouldn’t even join us in a city government if it had any other option.

I won’t forget the sparkle in party leader Zevulun Hammer’s eyes in 1977 when he had the privilege of serving as a minister in Menachem Begin’s government. He was a member of the center-left government led by the Alignment before the political upheaval of that year, but only because he had no alternative.

“The alliance of brothers” between right-winger Naftali Bennett and centrist Yair Lapid never had a chance because, in addition to the familiar differences, religious Zionists have a vision. They aren’t opposed to democracy on principle like the Haredim, but it isn’t one of their top priorities. They believe that the secular community has no real vision except to prevent “religionization” and to curtail “Judaism,” not democracy.

But unlike the Haredim they’re capable of feeling our pain. They’re aware of the corruption, and they despise Yair Netanyahu, who’s poisoning social media. But even though they aren’t homogeneous, they prefer to torture themselves with Netanyahu’s lies and maneuvers, rather than gamble on the blocs and parties that may be more decent but are diverting the country from the path of Judaism and the fulfillment of the “process of redemption.”

Therefore, even though an abyss separates the religious-Zionist community from the Haredim, they have a strong political common denominator: a preference for the right wing over the center and left. Their reasons may differ, but they share the same conclusion.

The Uman affair – the Bratslavers’ insistence to travel to the Ukrainian pilgrimage site despite the coronavirus – is the best illustration of the alliance between the right and the Haredi extremists. Netanyahu doesn’t care about the major rift he has created in the nation. But he cares about the Uman affair. He’ll devote all his resources to it.

The Bratslav Hasidim’s belligerent opposition to him fills him with fear. I think this fear is groundless. When election time comes, the Bratslav Hasidim will set up a headquarters for Netanyahu.

These words may be interpreted as defeatist. That’s a legitimate interpretation, but I’m not pessimistic. I believe that the desire to win the election draws from deep roots – a growing disgust with the Netanyahu-Miri Regev-Amir Ohana government. The public is sick and tired.

This isn’t a classic left-wing protest. It’s a popular protest with increasing reverberations, and it’s paramount to ramp up the protest. It’s the raw material for change at the ballot box at a time of such profound crisis.

But let’s face it, the Bratslavers – and the religious-Zionist and Haredi communities in general – won’t be there at the moment of truth.