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'We should be jealous of haredi unity in US'
By JEREMY SHARON
11/08/2012
Agudat Yisrael's Israel branch is comprised predominantly of hassidic dynasties and is one of two parties in the UTJ Knesset.
 
On a visit to the US, the rebbe of the Viznitz Hassidic dynasty, Rabbi Yisroel Hager has expressed concern for the ongoing divisions in the ultra- Orthodox community in Israel, and called for internal unity ahead of the January elections.

Hager’s concerns reflect wider unease in that community over internal divisions and the continued failure of the mainstream Askhenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism to increase the number of Knesset seats it receives in elections.

“We in the Land of Israel have reason to be jealous of Agudat Yisrael in America, which works towards the goal of [the biblical verse that] ‘everyone will form a single unit [to carry out God’s will],’ in unity of hearts and rank,” Hager said on Wednesday night in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Agudat Yisrael is an international political association representing the ultra-Orthodox.

Its Israel branch is comprised predominantly of hassidic dynasties and is one of two parties in the UTJ Knesset faction.

“If only we could copy the secret of Agudah’s success in America, which comes from the power of unity, to the Land of Israel, and to reinforce our strength for the coming elections,” said the rebbe, in the US for fund-raising.

The haredi community in Israel is riven by a leadership dispute between two senior rabbis, Aharon Leib Shteinman and Shmuel Auerbach, which has spilled over into political infighting.

There has also been unrest between the hassidic dynasties, centering on political disagreements.

One of the main arguments is over the division of Knesset seats between the major hassidic dynasties.

Traditionally, a candidate from the Gur Hassidim, being the largest hassidic sect in Israel, has headed Agudat Yisrael’s electoral list, followed by a candidate from a federation of various hassidic groups called Shlomei Emunim, plus a candidate from the Viznitz Hassidim.

Nominees from the Belz Hassidic sect have figured fourth on Agudat Yisrael’s list, and in the event that UTJ does not get six Knesset seats, one Agudah MK will swap places with the Belz candidate halfway through the Knesset term.

Currently there is a level of agitation from Belz to receive the third spot instead of Viznitz, and this is causing tension within the Agudat Yisrael party.

Rumors were even floated recently that Belz might join with Shas for the elections, although MK Yisroel Eichler, the Belz representative, strongly denied such a possibility.

Since Viznitz is the second largest hassidic dynasty in Israel after Gur, Belz is unlikely to win this battle.

Accompanying the internal political bickering in the haredi world is concern that the community’s growing numbers are not translating into increased political representation and power.

Speaking about the ongoing failure of UTJ to increase its number of mandates in the Knesset, Rabbi Yisroel Gellis, former editor of the daily haredi newspaper Yated Neeman said this week that ultra-Orthodox politicians have not sufficiently convinced their constituents that they are achieving anything for the community.

“If the political strength of the party [UTJ] isn’t growing, it implies that there are people who aren’t going to vote... or who are even going to vote for secular parties,” Gellis told haredi website Kikar Hashabbat.

UTJ currently holds five seats in the Knesset, the same number of seats garnered by ultra- Orthodox parties in elections for the Second Knesset in 1951.

Ashkenazi haredi parties in their different guises have not taken more than seven seats collectively, despite the rapid rate of growth in the ultra- Orthodox population.
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