Monday, January 19, 2015

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Akiva’s Israel Election Primer–Part 4, G-d’s Vote #IsraElex

Jews moving to live in Israel usually find Israeli politics incomprehensible.  With these primers, I’ll attempt to simply what’s going on within Israeli elections – if that’s possible.

imagePrimer Topic #4 – G-d’s Vote

Before we dive right into the deep end of the synagogue, a few quick corrections…

- In Primer #1 I indicated that the Labor Party was not having primaries.  This was incorrect, Labor did have a semi-open primary.  Semi-open means, in their case, it did not include voting for the party leader or for about 1/2 the positions on their list.  Interestingly, in the available positions, peace-focused candidates lost and economic (put price controls on all common purchase products!) candidates won big.

- A commentor added to Primer #3, “The Likud is not conservative at all, e.g. Republicans(US) or Conservatives(CAN).”  I agree, Likud is still somewhat socialist and secularist compared to US or Canadian conservatives.  But “somewhat” instead of “completely” makes them right wing / conservative…by Israeli standards.

- The same commentor added, “the Bayit Yehudi primaries are also as 'semi-open' as the Likud. Bennet also has his reserved spots and there are other reserved spots as well. Likud has various reserved spots besides the leader choices.”  Correction accepted.

Israel’s “religious” parties, more specifically Jewish Orthodox focused political parties, have been narrow issue parties.  Through most of Israel’s history they advocated for the specific segments of society that they focused on representing, as well as on issues that affect the religious interaction with government, and moral standards of Israeli society.  Being the government was building the New Israel with the New Jew, the old antiquated Torah Religious Jew as shoved off into the corner – a minority who would, hopefully, fade away into modernity.

Sadly for them (thank G-d for us), “New Israel” failed.  Kibbutzim and strict socialism failed and faded into the background.  And the Torah Religious Jews grew into a significant percentage of the population, with the halls of power now worried about them growing into a majority over the next 3-4 generations. 

imageIn those early days this made the religious parties perfect partners for any government…as they didn’t really care whether the government was rightist or leftist, peace-niks or settlement building, socialist or more capitalist.  They cared about being left alone, being able to run their own educational institutions, and maintaining the religious standards of religious services (with as much government financial support as could be engendered for the latter two).  Some segment of or all the religious parties were members of most of the coalition governments in Israel’s history.  Rarely did they play any active role in the government beyond religious services (with United Torah Judaism explicitly saying in the past that they DID NOT WANT any minister positions).

Who supports the religious parties?  The religious parties were formed by rabbinical leaders within the ultra-orthodox communities – with the same leaders instructing their communities that there is simply no choice… your vote is owed to the leadership of the community to be directed, as a block, to where the community religious leadership feels appropriate.  While those of us from the U.S. may shudder at such an approach (though it’s also taken by the same groups in New York), it very effectively maximizes the voting impact of the ultra-orthodox as a minority group.  The ultra-orthodox parties receive over 90% of the ultra-orthodox community vote.  Because the rabbis, and by inference G-d, says so.

(It should be noted that while this maximizes the parliament seats the ultra-orthodox parties receive, it also eliminates the need of the large national parties to directly accommodate or attempt to represent or reach out to the ultra-orthodox communities… since the large parties know with certainly that the ultra-orthodox vote is already “owned”.  Rather, all they have to do is meet the basic funding and religious standards needs of the ultra-orthodox parties, and all the “needs” of the ultra-orthodox community are “met” – at least as far as their voting power/influence is concerned.)

imageUnited Torah Judaism is a merger of the two historical ultra-orthodox religious parties Degel HaTorah (the Flag of Torah) and Agudas Yisroel.  They represent the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel, with one sub-party (formerly independent party) representing the Chassidic segment and the other the Litvish segment.  Some of the members running on their list are appointed by their council of Torah sages, one sub-segment did an experiment this election with allowing each chassidic following to cast proportional votes for representatives in a strange form of primary.  They receive a strong 90%+ vote of their segments and maintain the highest community voting percentages within Israel.  They do this with both positive and negative influence within their communities.  Positive influence is sending the yeshiva students out to plaster the communities with election propaganda, having rabbinic authorities speak about the obligation to support the party, and helping everyone personally to get out to register and vote.  Negative influence is sending the yeshiva children to tear down any other election propaganda that enters their neighborhoods, warning that if you don’t vote appropriately you may be asked to leave your synagogue or have your children expelled from the community religious schools.  But that would be illegal according to Israeli electoral law, so we’ll just call that unfounded rumors.

Shas is the party started by HaRav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, to represent the ultra-orthodox Sephardim in Israel.  They focused on the duel purposes of representing the underclass Sephardim of Israel and the ultra-orthodox world from the Sephardi perspective.  It’s questionable (as far as I know) if they ever actually did anything for the Sephardi segment of the Israeli public – beyond standing tall.  Or maybe it’s that they built their educational network, an ultra-orthodox educational network Sephardi style, but freely admitted any member of the Sephardi public who came – regardless of financial means.  They did effectively create an educational feeder network that has built two generations of newly returned religious Sephardi Jewish public.  Their main focus as members of multiple governments was direct funding of their educational network – which when presented to the government was a top notch educational facility for underprivileged Sephardi citizens – but when built from the party perspective was more about reviving the traditional Sephardi religious observance.

Both parties state they operate according to rabbnical direction – though recent private videos released question how often the religious party parliament members are acting per rabbinical direction, askan (influential community members) influence, or their own political leanings.  As an example of the latter, the Shas party has taken diametrical positions regarding supporting the “Peace Process” and “Giving Land for Peace” when the party was run by former and returned to current leader Deri and former but now split-off party leader Yishai.  The Torah’s direction, political influence, or personal positions?  Only G-d can say.

The Shas party has had good success in the past, gaining support from both their religious segment and the Sephardi segment.  But with the passing of HaRav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, and the return of former and now returned party leader Deri, infighting has caused a party split.  The Shas party may lose half it’s support – or not, this election.

What about non-ultra-orthodox religious support?  Historically the National Religious Party represented the religious but not ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel, particularly those with a zionist settle all the land approach.  This party was folded into the National Union, which was folded into Bayit Yehudi…. which has de-emphasized religious issues over general representation for the Land of Israel – Settlement – No More Compromises for Peace segment of society.  So far their strategy has gained them more influence and representation, but definitely moved them out of the “religious party” category, though they are still holding firm on some religious principles (they were recently noted as refusing to support the legalizing of same gender relationships because of their religious stance).

An alternative position – standing alone among the ultra-orthodox communities in Israel is Chabad.  The Rebbe refused to have Chabad become part of United Torah Judaism or ANY political party – stating that direct religious involvement in the political parties would alienate Chabad from the people of Israel.  So while Chabadniks in Israel vote about 50:50 between the religious parties and parties that support “not giving land for peace” – a directive from the Rebbe, they do not support/endorse any party.

So if you’re part of the ultra-orthodox community in Israel, G-d says vote for an ultra-religious party – or so the party propaganda says.  Unless you’re Chabad, where the Rebbe says to vote for parties that support Shlaymius HaAretz – keeping the Land of Israel whole, first, and those with strong religious principles.

2 comments:

Neshama said...

Is this going to create a schism? "Speaking with Mordechai Lavi of Kol Berama Radio on Tuesday morning 29 Teves, MK Moshe Gafne explained from his perspective there is no such thing as ‘working chareidi’."

So the Orthodox Religious men and women who work even a little to supplement income and put food on the table are NOT considered Haredi? Who are they now?
A new category? Does that mean they don't adhere to the Gedolim? What party do the vote in?

Akiva said...

For the last several elections the working segment of charedi society has felt unrepresented and discriminated against within charedi society. There have been some efforts to form a "working charedi party" - those efforts failed.

However, none of the other parties have tried to make inroads in the charedi community - so whether the sub-segment feels represented or not, they have nowhere else to go.

They may, however, stay home. But to keep up appearences, likely they'll go and they'll continue to vote UTJ.

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