As the report below shows, United Torah Judaism, one of the Israeli ultra-religious political parties, has approved joining the government. With Sharon set to give away parts of the holy land of Israel, many may wonder how a religious political party can join such a government.
The surprising answer is that, while losing their seats in the coalition, Shiniu (Israeli's anti-religious party) has actually won their heart. Through the previous period of the coalition government of Likud, Shinui and National Religious Party, the key ministries for social control where in the hands of Shinui. They radically gutted 50 years of standing social policy, de-funding everything and anything religious. This includes a series of religious school systems that provide education for 40% of Israel's children.
While the religious parties and portion of Israeli society absorbed the changes, which included de-funding of religious services, reduced support for large-size poor families (most religious families in Israel have many children), kosher supervision, sabbath law enforcement, town religious councils (responsible for providing religious services to poor neighborhoods and making sure that all citizens desiring services are able to receive them), and legal controls of marriage, divorce and custody rights. What this part of Israeli society is unable to absorb is the financial impact of reduced or eliminated school funding (though the reduced poor family support really hurt as well and as left many families literally poverty stricken).
The religious school systems of Israel (as is true in many other parts of the world as well for all types of religious school systems) have higher graduation rates, lower (to almost non-existant) incidents of in-school-violence, drug use, teen pregnancy, the previous coalition reduced or eliminated funding as much as possible, and was in the process of changing laws to permit the forced application of outside antithetical standards.
Under these pressures, Shinui won and Mr. Sharon has performed an incredible job of political judo. By leveraging one opponent against another, the religious political parties find themselves in an incredibly difficult position. Lose their children, or lose the Land?
The Shas party, with spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, made the unbelievably difficult decision to tell Mr. Sharon 'no deal'. They won't support the government in giving away land.
United Torah Judaism, with spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, faced the same difficult choice. For his response, see the quotes below... The Jerusalem Post reports:
After receiving the long-awaited approval from United Torah Judaism to form a 64-MK coalition with Likud and Labor, Sharon intends to expedite a cabinet vote on his unilateral disengagement plan...
UTJ spiritual mentor Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv decided to allow the party to join the coalition for a three-month trial period, during which he will gauge whether the Likud has kept its promises to UTJ on reinstating religious services and maintaining the independence of the haredi school system...
Elyashiv's main reasons for allowing UTJ to join were the opportunity to repair changes Shinui made in the government on matters of religion and state, plus the promises exacted from Likud on educational issues. He also figured that the disengagement plan would pass whether or not UTJ joined.
In all of this, Shinui is both the winner and loser. They won their heart, they got their chance to strike out at the religious sectors of Israeli society (Shinui is rabidly anti-religious, seeing anything in Israeli society dealing with religion as religious coercion, which occasionally really is the case but not anywhere near their paranoid perception.) They also propound a strong nationalist position which they were willing to give up in a second, losing their soul to engage their true love, striking out at the religious.
Perhaps Shinui's core voting group will continue to enthusiastically support them in the next election but a significant part of their votes came from middle-of-the-road Israeli's who said 'yes religion wields too great an influence in our society, and a strong nationalistic and economic position is important'. They'll lose on the second part of that equation.