Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5760 - June 21, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







General and Chareidi Voting Patterns in Israel

by M. Samsonowitz

The Voting Sectors

Though the media has been on Barak's side, unlike the way they constantly attacked Netanyahu, Barak's broad, but shaky, coalition has shown serious signs of weakness much sooner than Netanyahu's that lasted for three years. After barely a year, a bill to dissolve the government and hold new elections was passed with the support of more than a third of the coalition partners. Though elections are not imminent, they are on everyone's mind and may happen sooner rather than later.

If elections are called, what are the implications for Israeli society? How does the Israeli population vote? And of even more importance to us, how do the religious vote?

Dr. Yaakov Katz, the head of the Education Department in Bar Ilan University and a leading pollster for former prime minister Netanyahu and other leading politicians, says that the Israeli voting public may be divided into five basic sectors:

28% -- who are left and far left

35% -- right

15% -- chareidim and datiim (national religious/modern Orthodox)

10% -- Russian immigrants, and

12% -- Arabs.

Among those who are in the right, many are traditional and/or partially observant.

It is important to distinguish between the voter base and the population as a whole. Prof. Katz says that the chareidim and the datiim together form 25% of the total population, and the Arabs comprise 18-20% of the total population, despite both of their voter base being much smaller. This is because they have large families and many of them are children under the voting age. Eventually of course, this will be reflected in the voting populations as well.

The Chareidi and Dati Vote

If all the votes of all the chareidim and datiim were cast for religious parties, Prof. Katz says that the chareidim and datiim could control 30 Knesset seats (25%). He says that 125,000-200,000 votes of the datiim and even some chareidim go to non-religious parties, giving them a total of 5-8 mandates.

Who receives the votes of Israel's religious citizens? Prof. Katz says that 10-15% of the Likud's voters are chareidim/datiim. He says that even Labor gets 1-2 seats from left-leaning datiim. The parties on the far right (Ichud Leumi and Yisroel Beiteinu) are also supported by many religious votes, particularly from dati settlers.

In the 1996 elections Mafdal received 9 seats, while three years later in the 1999 elections it shrank to 5 seats. The votes of those 4 seats were divided up mostly among right- wing parties.

Both the left-wing, right-wing and religious have a core group which never changes its votes. 25% of the population always votes left, and 25% (possibly slightly more) always votes right. The chareidim and datiim also have a core group, which comprises 12% of the voting population (about 14 seats) which always votes for a religious party, and these bring Aguda its 4-5 seats, Shas about 5 seats, and NRP 5 seats. The Arabs also have a core comprising 8% of the population which votes in 8-10 seats for Arab parties.

The crucial floating votes to which every party directs most of its efforts during election campaigns are the remaining 18% of the native Jewish population plus the 12% Russian immigrants. The Russians are not committed to any ideology or party. They can swing from one side, as they did in 1996 when the Russians voted right, to the other as in 1999 when they voted left. The 12% Russian vote and 18% uncommitted voters who decided to vote left in 1999 were the decisive votes that pulled down the previous government and put a new one in power.

The sectors which are increasing in size relative to the others are the chareidim and Arabs, though the change has not yet been felt in the voting patterns. For the past two decades, Arabs received 8-10 MKs in the elections, while the chareidim have consistently received 4 or 5 each time. Prof. Katz agrees that the chareidi population would have had considerably greater electoral power were it not for the immigration of a million Russians which offset their demographic increase. The chareidim actually do better than their proportion in the population because of their 90% turn- out at the voting booths as opposed to 80-82% for the rest of the populace.

Political Parties Likely to Change in Future

Although the pattern of the voting public may appear straightforward, Prof. Katz says that voting patterns are likely to change in the near future for the simple reason that the goals and composition of the political parties are rapidly changing, causing the definitions of "right" and "left" to unravel.

"Right is not completely right and left isn't completely left," he explains. "At the present, if you're in favor of resisting territorial compromise, you're considered right irrespective of your economic, social and religious views."

But if the country gives back the territories, territory will no longer be an issue and politics will revolve around social and economic issues as they do in France and the U.S. The concept of right or left will not be based on territory but on how people perceive the social order. When that happens, Prof. Katz believes that whoever will convey a message of social equality will have a good chance of being elected.

If he is correct, since today there is little difference on economic issues between the parties, the difference between left and right may disintegrate. Candidates may be chosen according to who is most charismatic or who is able to run the most successful election campaign.

The divide in the country between right and left is likely to metamorphose into a secular/religious divide.

Who Votes for UTJ?

The subject of our greatest interest is the chareidi community. The chareidim today form 8% of the Israeli public with a population numbering at least 400,000-450,000.

United Torah Judaism received 125,741 votes in the previous elections a year ago. Of these, 72,103 came from major religious strongholds (Jerusalem, Bnei Bark, Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, Telz-Stone, Rechasim, Emanuel, Elad, Beit Chilkiya, Yesodot, Kommemiyus, Bnei Re'em, and Tifrach).

Another 22,199 votes came from towns with religious neighborhoods (Petach Tikva, Ashdod, Netanya, Rechovot, Ofakim, Netivot, Yeruchom, Zichron Yaakov, Chadera, Tiveriya, Tzfas, Chatzor, Arad, Haifa, Beit Shemesh).

Another 18,792 came from cities where religious activists are active in reaching out and teaching the residents, including many families who are in the process of chazara bitshuva. Such towns include Rishon Letzion, Holon, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, Eilat, Beersheva, Dimona, Lod, Ramla, Or Yehuda, Ramat Gan, Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Ra'anana, Kfar Saba, Nahariya, Afula, and Migdal Ha'emek.

Adding the first two together gives us 94,302 votes which, together with a few thousand more votes from small religious communities in outlying towns, gives us about 100,000 votes which should be considered the core religious votes for the party. The remaining 25,000 UTJ votes came from cities where religious activists are active, from peripheral towns and villages (in the north and the territories) which received preferential treatment from Housing Deputy Minister Porush, and from 3200 Arab and Druse votes. These are the "floating votes" which do not come from UTJ's core voter base.

A breakdown of the core group shows that there was a 13% rise in votes in the chareidi strongholds, and a 27% rise in votes in cities and towns with religious neighborhoods. The difference between the two is that the first increase reflected the natural demographic increase of the chareidi community, while the second greater increase also includes baalei teshuva, mischazkim and others who became affiliated with the chareidi community in the interval between elections.

From the above statistics, we note several things. First, for every chareidi person who has the right to vote, there are another 3-4 who are under voting age. This implies that the political power of the chareidim will increase in the next 20 years.

Second, the chareidim have a natural increase of approximately 13% every 3 years.

Applying this increase to the 1996 election figures, the 98,657 votes which UTJ received then would have yielded 111,482 votes in 1999. We can conclude that the extra 14,000 votes were largely achieved through kiruv activities, electioneering among Arabs and helping deprived sectors through control of the Housing Ministry.

The natural increase of the non-religious community in Israel is among the lowest rates of increase among Jews anywhere.

Growth of the Religious vs. Growth of the Secular

Demographical studies done by the Geocartography survey institute show that the average number of people in a secular family is 3.3, whereas the average number of people per religious family is 5.5. This number is reached by tallying the number of households and dividing it up by the number of individuals in that society. The meaning of these numbers requires some elaboration.

Although 3.3 would ostensibly mean 2 adults and 1.3 children we must remember that this number does not mean average children per family. The households counted include the elderly, widowed, divorced and men and women in their twenties and thirties who have their own homes but have not yet married. Nevertheless, demographers say that the natural increase of the secular community is almost that low. Only 70% of those 18 and older are married, most of those who marry do so at a relatively late age, and the average secular Israeli family has 1.4 children. This fertility rate is even below that of the overall Jewish population in the U.S. which stands at 1.6 which also means the population is shrinking. (The minimum rate for a stable population is about 2.1 children to allow for the fact that some do not have children.) The only Jewish group in Israel whose fertility is even lower than this are Russians who have only 0.5 children per family.

The 5.5 members per religious household likewise includes all families in religious society including the newly married and the elderly. Prof. Menachem Friedman of Bar Ilan University says that the average number of children per religious family is 7.4 children.

Although no one can predict future population growth in Israel, we can make a projection of what may likely occur based on present numbers and demographic patterns.

Geocartography, a polling agency, divides the Jewish population in the following way: 9% chareidi, 12% datiim, 32% traditional, 47% secular. Since the Jewish population is slightly less than 5 million, this means there are 450,000 chareidi, 600,000 datiim, 1,440,000 traditional and 2,350,000 secular. (The criteria for these classifications are not clear, and they are probably based on the way people see themselves. However, many Jews call themselves "secular" simply because they do not wear religious dress or stringently observe Jewish law. Studies done <%- 2>about the levels of observance of the Israeli population show that around 80% keep kosher and 90% fast on Yom Kippur.)

Prof. Danny Michaelson of the Weizmann Institute, a statistician, explains that the yearly increase rate for the total chareidi community is 5%, for the datiim it is 3%, the traditional 2%, and the secular it is -0.3%. Assuming that six children are born to each chareidi couple and a generation lasts 30 years (parents give birth to their children from age 20 to 40), he says that a simple calculation shows that within 20 years the chareidim will reach 1,200,000 souls, the datiim 1,000,080, the traditional 2,140,000, and the secular 1,850,000. In other words, the chareidim will be 19% of the population, the datiim 16%, the traditional 35% and the secular 30%.

Continuing our projections, in 40 years the religious will number 3,000,000, the datiim 1,700,000, the traditional 3,100,000, and the secular 1,460,000. In other words, 32% of the population will be religious while the datiim will be 18%, the traditional 33%, and the secular will be a relatively small minority of only 16%. This is comparable to the proportion of blacks in the U.S.A.

(These are projections that are based on the current trends. These may not continue unchanged. We believe that the traditional will split into two groups: one becoming more religious and the other joining the secularists. Other events that may affect these statistics include immigration, war, disease, etc.)

There are other factors that tip the scales in favor of the chareidim. There is more secular emigration than religious emigration. There is the phenomena of machzirim bitshuva and kiruv organizations such as Arachim and Lev L'Achim, who have brought hundreds of thousands of Jews closer to Judaism. On the other hand, immigration of Russians and Ethiopians, many of whom are openly not Jewish, tilt in favor of the secularists.

While the chareidim hardly pay attention to the demographics, the secularists running the country -- who will not do well if natural demographics are allowed to take their course -- are obsessively occupied with it.

The blessed increase of the religious community should show up in Knesset seats. Nonetheless, this was not the case until now.

Increasing the Sephardic Votes for UTJ

As we have seen above, UTJ is a party with a clear-cut voter base and a clear-cut party platform. One would think it would be the natural home of every religious voter. However, Rabbi Yechiel Tourgeman, a Sephardic UTJ Jerusalem councilman who is a grandson of Baba Sali and who was once active in Shas, says that the party is aware that only 70% of the chareidim vote for UTJ. Of the remaining 30%, 15% vote for Shas (mostly Sephardim), and 15% for Likud and Ichud Leumi. None of the chareidim would even consider voting for Mafdal.

Rabbi Tourgeman, who has analyzed voting patterns carefully, says that he hasn't seen any pattern of Ashkenazim voting for Shas, although in the last elections some voted for Shas out of identification with what they perceived as the secular establishment targeting Arye Deri. He notes that the commitment to obey gedolim has became weaker.

"Many don't see any reason not to vote for Shas," says Rabbi Tourgeman. "Shas and UTJ seem more or less the same to them, yet in reality there is a huge gap in hashkofo."

There are also groups who feel unrepresented in UTJ, with varying degrees of justification, and some of these have voted for Shas in the past. These include some Sephardic bnei yeshivos, but they also include Belzer Chassidim who don't have a representative in UTJ, and some smaller chassidic groups. Some of these changed their allegiance during various past elections between Shas, Degel HaTorah and Aguda, according to whoever would commit themselves to advance their interests.

Rabbi Tourgeman finds that a determining factor in whether a religious Jew will vote for UTJ is whether he has studied in yeshiva. He claims that the Marbitzei Torah Sephardim faction in UTJ, which he represents, comprises about 10,000 votes. According to his figures, including youths under voting age, the number of Sephardim attending Ashkenazic yeshivas or yeshivos which have allegiance to Ashkenazic Torah sages is at least 20,000.

Rabbi Tourgeman says that around 12 of the major Sephardic roshei yeshivos today are students of HaRav Shach shlita. These include HaRav Nissim Toledano (Yeshivas Shearis Yosef), HaRav Gavriel Toledano (Yeshivas Or Boruch), and HaRav Yaakov Hillel (Yeshivas Ahavas Sholom who, however, is not active in politics).

Many Sephardic bnei Torah departed from UTJ in the past in reaction against the discrimination they suffered by the Ashkenazic religious establishment, and not because Shas was their natural place.

"There is a huge public of Sephardim who feel themselves an integral part of Degel HaTorah but want status there," Rabbi Tourgeman explains. "To have a voice, you need political standing. Since the Sephardim weren't given it in UTJ, they went elsewhere." Rabbi Tourgeman, however, is evidence that this is changing.

The discrimination suffered by the Sephardim and their demands for equality prompted HaRav Shach to found Shas in 1982. The party remained faithful to HaRav Shach's leadership for the first two elections, until it officially switched allegiance to Rav Ovadia Yosef. The Sephardic bnei Torah then rejected Shas and tried to form their own party in the early 1990's under Rabbi Azran, a former Shas MK. However, the party failed to pass the representation threshold and since then the group has voted for UTJ.

In the last Jerusalem elections Rabbi Tourgeman was #7 on the municipal list in the 1998 elections (and thus elected) and again he was #7 on the national UTJ list in the national elections last May that brought only 5 mandates to UTJ (and thus he was not elected).

He feels that UTJ can get more Sephardic votes. He adds that even the Shas politicians want to send their children to Ashkenazic Litvish-style schools. He is acquainted with the phenomenon from up close since he deals daily with such requests.

Other Sources of Voter Support

Is there any other way to increase the voter base? The extra votes which UTJ received from the territories, Arabs and peripheral communities would indicate that there are others willing to vote for UTJ despite not being part of the religious community.

Rabbi Moshe Gafni, a four-term Knesset member for UTJ from Degel HaTorah says that UTJ is involved in far more than helping its own religious voter base. "Our approach is to help the entire Jewish public and not only the chareidim. We are more active helping others than anyone else."

Rabbi Gafni states unequivocally that UTJ suffers unjustifiably from a poor public image. He says that the work done by UTJ politicians and activists is extensive, although it is low-key and intentionally avoids publicity. A major reason for this is that any publicity invites and incites media attacks which mean that the publicity ultimately does more harm than good.

"To get a building for a yeshiva, we have to go through 7 levels of Gehennom," he says candidly. "Everything is done quietly so as not to anger the secularists. But the result is that we are painted even in the eyes of our own community as batlonim who do nothing."

Rav Yechiel Tourgeman agrees. He says that UTJ doesn't market itself well and public relations was never one of its priorities. He feels that the only way to attract voters is by sending out a clear message to them, and staying faithful to our values. "If we're honest and focus on our issues, our community will be faithful, and recognition will come. The more we state openly our religious values, the more the public wants us."

Rabbi Gafni likewise feels that UTJ's success at achieving another mandate in the last elections came because it is seen as the keeper of the State's Jewish identity, and is viewed as an honest party. "A secular Jew recently told me he voted for UTJ. Why? Because we're the only ones who are working to ensure the Jewish nature of the State. That partially explains why we received 50% more votes from totally secular communities in the last elections."

UTJ Activities

Rabbi Gafni's list of UTJ's achievements is worthy of mention. UTJ backs Toda'a which sponsors dozens of lectures educating Jews in secular communities all over Israel. It built a large housing project for the religious in Ramat Shlomo and scrupulously refunded extra money to people who had bought in the project. It undertook another housing project in Elad, built homes there at one third lower price, and forced the other contractors to sell their apartments at reduced prices. It continues to establish and fund Jewish schools all over Israel, help the community deal with the army, and a host of other problems that concern the religious community.

"Every person from the religious community who takes part in our communal work knows that we are out there working hard. The ones who complain are the ones who don't know what's going on," insists Rabbi Gafni.

There is an interesting progression with Sephardic chozrim bitshuva. Rabbi Gafni says that when UTJ's activists start working with Sephardic families in secular areas, in the earlier stages the families vote UTJ. However, after the family has made the switch to full religious commitment, they assert their roots and vote Shas.

Rabbi Gafni says that the party's activists had discussions on whether they should focus their kiruv efforts on Ashkenazim instead of Sephardim because of the disappointing voting results with them, but the gedolim said the party's activists should work with whomever is more amenable to returning to Judaism, and this is often Sephardim.

Rabbi Gafni points to the fact that Chinuch Atzmai has 120,000 children studying in its institutions, of which a large percentage are Sephardim. The Shas's El HaMaayan school system, in contrast, has much less. Although in practice Shas does much less, he concedes that Shas are masters at public relations. He says that UTJ cannot compete with them on this front.

UTJ's efforts to obtain additional votes would naturally be directed also to the 15% religious Ashkenazim who vote for right-wing parties.

Rabbi Tourgeman describes the religious who vote for the Likud as people who "learned in yeshivos, believe in the Torah, keep kosher, and observe all the mitzvos but are definitely not bnei Torah and lack yiras Shomayim."

We can get some insight into the approximately fifteen thousand religious Ashkenazim who voted for the Ichud Leumi and Likud from Rafi Bar Chen, the head of the Jerusalem branch of the Likud who is a scion of a Sephardic rabbinical family and a strictly religious Jew.

Rafi justified membership in the Likud because the Likud is "not a secular party." He says, "The Central Committee is full of religious Jews. And it was that way even before I joined ten years ago and founded the religious division."

Rafi justifies membership in the Likud for several reasons. He feels that certain aims can be accomplished more effectively within a secular political party rather than a religious one. Sometimes, for example, the Likud politicians have certain powers and their membership in the party gives them preferred access to them. They can influence the choice of candidates who will be prime ministers and members of Knesset.

What about the importance of daas Torah? Bar Chen has no real answer to this. He just responds with a litany of standard complaints about the way the chareidi parties are run.

Bar Chen explains in contrast, that religious Likud voters are mostly young members of the religious public who prefer a certain amount of openness and involvement in the State. They consider themselves fully religious, but a certain modernization has made inroads into their lives. They tend to live in newer religious or mixed neighborhoods, and they want to enjoy more of the modern secular world's "good life."

Bar Chen says that these new "modern" religious want to influence the Likud, and he hopes that the modern religious Jews will have penetrated all echelons of Israel's power structure within ten years.

Bar Chen estimates that 15-20% of Jerusalem's religious population is like this. He claims that it is difficult to identify such youths until shortly after they marry, but he thinks that there are many in standard yeshivas. By his own claims, it is difficult to verify the truth of these statements.

Bar Chen says that 30% of the Likud's voters are datiim and about 5-10% are chareidi. 2000 chareidim in Jerusalem pay dues regularly and another 5-6000 pay dues right before primaries to get a vote. Nationally he estimates that about 5,000 chareidim pay dues regularly, and 15,000 register for primaries. He estimates that thousands more vote for the Likud and bring in at least one mandate during national elections. This means about another 20,000 votes.

Bar Chen says that 85% of the Likud's religious members voted for the Likud before the direct election of prime minister. In the last elections though, 80% of these decided to vote for the Likud's prime ministerial candidate while casting their party vote with the religious parties. If the Knesset changes the law and returns to a party-vote only, Bar Chen expects to get 3-4 mandates from the religious (Sephardim and Ashkenazim) today.

Bar Chen's description and reasoning confirms Rabbi Tourgeman's description of the religious who vote for the Likud as people who "learned in yeshivos, believe in the Torah, keep kosher, and observe all the mitzvos but are definitely not bnei Torah and lack yiras Shomayim."

In particular, their allegiance to the gedolim is weak, and they are not sensitive to the extremely important issue of identity: the Likud is still a secular party, and to count oneself among its members is to declare that other values than Torah and yiras Shomayim are more important.

The Chazon Ish taught us that the simple act of voting for a chareidi party, which amounts to a declaration that Torah and its values are one's main interest, is itself of paramount importance. Every voter who declares on election day that he is with UTJ makes a tremendous kiddush Hashem that easily outweighs any petty calculations of material gain or loss.

Rabbi Gafni reiterates, "We do what gedolei Torah tell us to do. The criteria behind our every move is to fight against the destruction of Judaism in the State. In contrast, one who votes for Ichud Leumi or Likud is responsible for helping pass legislation and changes in the State which further erode Judaism."

He gives as an example legislation which UTJ tried to present that would have put the election of High Court judges into the hands of the Knesset. This would have ended the control of the High Court by the closed society of extreme leftists who are sitting there today, and would have insured a fairer representation of the different sectors in the country. The motion fell when the Ichud Leumi and Likud announced they would not support it.

Also, the religious MKs wanted to fight Basic Laws which they foresaw would weaken the Jewish nature of the State. Ruby Rivlin of the Likud, and Avigdor Leiberman of the Ichud Leumi pushed these laws through. Those who are members of Likud and Ichud Leumi are under their banner.

Rabbi Gafni believes that if UTJ receives 10 mandates, they could cut the power of the secular courts by a half. The splintered religious votes prevents this from happening. This is another reply to the arguments of those who join the secular parties claiming that they can get more done: if their considerable voting power went to the chareidi cause, the chareidim could also accomplish much more. Also, if they have a larger delegation it is easier to give representation to more chareidi groups.

In summary, the potential exists for UTJ to get 1-3 more Knesset seats from religious voters beyond their current 5. However to attract these votes that wander from their natural electorate, they should consider the following:

1) Public relations is a necessity and not a luxury. If the religious community doesn't see and hear of UTJ's efforts and achievements on an ongoing basis, these achievements are to some extent nonexistent.

2) Sephardim have to be more integrated into the party.

3) UTJ has long had a reputation as a party of several factions, with each faction looking out for its own interests. This image is unattractive, especially to those who do not belong to one of the bigger factions. However, this is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Prof. Katz's Profile of the Israeli Voter Groups

Leftist voters: Middle upper class, secular and even some datiim. They believe territorial compromise will bring about a boom in the economy. Because they are heavily represented in the top economic strata, they expect to become richer after peace comes.

Right-wing voters: The secular and traditional lower economic classes, and religious people who believe in nationalism from a religious viewpoint. They resist territorial compromise.

Chareidi voters: Jews who are fully committed to a religious life and accept guidance and instruction from Torah sages. Most chareidi Jews would only vote for United Torah Judaism. They would almost never consider voting for anyone else.

Mafdal voters: People who feel that the ideals of nationalism and religion are both important. They have a large base of voter support, potentially 15 mandates, but many are quick to criticize the party when it does not live up to their standards. The typical Mafdal voter is prepared to leave the party and go somewhere else, whether to the left or right. Because the Mafdal in recent years has abandoned its social platform and is emphasizing territory, it lost many members.

Shas voters: The party has a core voter base of about 6 to 7 Knesset members. These voters are either religious or sympathetic to religion. The rest of their mandates come from people who sympathize with them and like their ethnic and social platform, but they could easily change allegiance if they are unhappy with the party's performance. Shas voters are generally situated in the lower economic strata.

Russian voters: They think in pragmatic terms. They will vote for whoever will improve their lot economically. They tend to be nationalistic and don't like the idea of giving up territory, but they'll go where they're offered economic benefits. They didn't like Netanyahu's economic policy, but they don't like Barak on the Golan either. They're switching again. Barak wants to give up the Golan and didn't solve the economic problems, so they want to get rid of him. They feel that a government that didn't succeed should be removed. Russians have no party loyalty to left or right.

Arab voters: Although they all want peace and all are for giving up the territories, they're not united to further their own nationalistic ideas and therefore have not realized their voter potential. They find it difficult to work together as one homogeneous group because of internal Arab politics. If they used their voting power they would have many more seats than they have now.

The Druse population is a mere 80,000 which is not statistically relevant. They are loyal to any country they are resident in. Although they have not been part of the Arab nationalist movement until now, the Druse vote both for Arab and Israeli parties.

General and Chareidi Voting Patterns in Israel

Prof. Katz on How the Chareidim are Viewed by the Israeli Public

The Israeli population is very suspicious of the chareidi community. They fear and dislike the chareidim because they don't serve in the army, and are perceived as not working and living off welfare and government allowances. The chareidim are viewed as being very involved in "narrow" chareidi issues that are not perceived as important by others, and therefore they are considered to have no vision. The few thousand non- chareidim who voted for UTJ did so for utilitarian reasons -- such as because Rabbi Porush helped them during his stint as Minister of Housing.

General and Chareidi Voting Patterns in Israel

UTJ -- to the Left or the Right?

UTJ has joined both right-wing and left-wing governments. Rabbi Tourgeman explains that UTJ is closer to the Right because there is much less hostility towards Judaism among those of right-wing orientation. HaRav Shach instructed UTJ to agree to give back land if it will guarantee less bloodshed. When the Likud gave up land in the past, UTJ voted in favor. (He adds that the reason we are against giving back land when the Left proposes it is because we don't trust the Left.)

Rabbi Gafni explains that joining a leftist coalition is usually in the material interests of the chareidim. A leftist prime minister is generally willing to give the chareidim the funding and government benefits coming to them in exchange for their support. And since the media likes the Left, the media doesn't bark when a leftist prime minister makes deals with the religious.

In contrast, when Netanyahu was in control, the media assailed the religious parties for every small benefit that the government gave them. The Likud abandoned the religious to the media's incitement and attacks instead of giving them backing, since they knew it would deflect media attacks from themselves.

Rabbi Gafni says, "I told the Likud, you're sticking a knife in your own stomach. If you allow us to be attacked every time we get something which we deserve, then don't come to us with complaints when we prefer to go with the Left. If you don't fight for us, don't expect us to fight for you."

However, Rabbi Gafni admits that the leadership of UTJ and particularly the Degel HaTorah faction always insisted on going with the right-wing parties even when the left parties offered them a better deal and more funds. This was because the gedolim do not want to put the anti-religious Left into power. Any material gains that could accrue to UTJ are outweighed by the long-term damage the anti- religious ministers wreak on the general Israeli public.


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