The moderate haredi party Tov had a bad night at the polls Tuesday evening,
losing its one seat on the Beit Shemesh municipal council and failing to pick up
a seat in Jerusalem, where it garnered fewer than 2,000 votes.
did, however, manage to cling to its seat in Betar Illit, by dint of its running
together with other haredi parties in the city on a united list.
battle for votes in the haredi sector in the latest round of municipal elections
was particularly ferocious, with two new ultra-Orthodox parties vying for the
Tov, which seeks to represent haredim who are more
integrated into the workforce and society than the mainstream of the community,
went into the elections with a good degree of momentum and optimism. A poll in
Jerusalem’s Kol Ha’ir local newspaper showed the party gaining at least one seat
on the city council, and the announcement that they had the implicit backing of
a senior haredi rabbi – the grand rabbi of the Amshinov Hassidic dynasty –
raised party hopes for a revolution in haredi politics.
But in Beit
Shemesh, where the party already had one seat in the previous five-year council
term, Tov took only 1,277 votes out of 33,554 cast, or 3.8 percent. In
Jerusalem, the results were even more catastrophic, with the party taking 1,833
votes out of 218,644 – just 0.86%.
Still, the movement’s chairman, Hanoch
Verdinger, who was first on the party’s Jerusalem list, said that although the
results of the election were disappointing, the impact of having run campaigns
in three major haredi strongholds would be long felt.
“If you look at the
results in terms of the number of votes we received, then we failed,” he said in
a conversation with The Jerusalem Post. “But in terms of getting our message
out, having it heard, and the simple fact of exposing people to an alternative
world view which says that you can remain haredi but live in a different manner
– this is historic.”
He said the awareness of the Tov party and its ideas
was now much greater than before the election campaign, and that even this step
was of great significance.
By contrast, Bnei Torah, a hardline haredi
party set up as part of a rebellion against the mainstream non-hassidic haredi
rabbinic and political leadership of Degel Hatorah, fared as well as its leaders
could have hoped.
The party, headed by spiritual guide Rabbi Shmuel
Auerbach, took two council seats in Bnei Brak, two in Modi’in Illit and one
mandate in Jerusalem.
Sweetest for Bnei Torah, however, was the 3.6% of
the mayoral vote that its candidate Haim Epstein took.
mayor Nir Barkat won the election by some 6%, it was Bnei Torah’s refusal to
withdraw its candidacy that gave the hassidic groups in Jerusalem the excuse not
to back Likud- Beytenu candidate Moshe Lion, depriving him of critical votes in
the tight race and essentially sealing the election for Barkat.
Hatorah had endorsed and campaigned for Lion, but Bnei Torah had refused to back
him, primarily to frustrate Degel.
Senior Bnei Torah official Yishaiyahu
Wein told the Post on Wednesday that the party would willingly join Barkat’s
coalition and would request a portfolio or similar position of authority within
the municipal administration in return for having refused to unite the haredi
vote in the city – an eventuality that would very likely have been fatal for the
As to wider haredi politics, Wein said he doubted Degel
Hatorah would be any more accommodating to Auerbach’s faction in the future,
despite its newfound political significance. But he claimed that Bnei Torah no
longer needed Degel’s sanction or approval and that the party could move on to
The contrasting fortunes of Auerbach’s party and Tov
are striking. Auerbach and Bnei Torah have taken an even harder stance against
the issue of haredi IDF enlistment than Degel Hatorah has, and represents the
hard Right, religiously speaking, of the mainstream ultra-Orthodox community
(excluding even more extreme groups such as the Eda Haredit communal
organization, the Satmar Hassidim and Natorei Karta).
While Bnei Torah
burst into prominence in these elections by taking five seats and turning the
course of the election in Jerusalem, Tov was unable even to hold on to previous
Verdinger argued, however, that the results did not indicate
increased radicalization of the haredi sector, and said that Auerbach’s faction
and supporters had simply created a more suitable political home for
“Degel and Bnei Torah are not offering two different
perspectives or ideologies, just different tactics geared toward the same
strategy,” he said. “What Tov is offering, and what we hope can evolve to become
part of the mainstream haredi consensus, is that people can remain haredi but
can live more in accordance with their own wishes, earn a living, and break out
of the cycle of poverty.”
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