The haredi United Torah Judaism party garnered a historic seven-seat haul in
Tuesday’s election, but may nevertheless find itself outside the coalition in
the next government.
Speaking on Kol Yisrael Radio, senior UTJ MK Moshe
Gafni said that his party had a “clear platform” and that if other coalition
parties couldn’t live with its principles, then they would not be part of the
“The prime minister spoke with me last night, and we
won’t rule out sitting with any party as long as they can live with us and we
can live with them,” Gafni said.
The issue of haredi enlistment in
national service is likely to be a serious obstacle to a coalition including
both Yesh Atid and UTJ, as the Ashkenazi haredi party is fiercely opposed to any
meaningful reform to the broad exemption of full-time yeshiva students from
Gafni warned, however, that even if UTJ does not join
the government, coalition parties would still struggle to impose their will to
draft haredi men into the army.
“A government with a small majority such
as is likely to be formed without us won’t last very long. And even if we’re not
in the government, it still won’t be possible to impose a solution coercively.
Things have to be done in a reasonable manner, yeshiva students can’t be dragged
out of the study hall,” Gafni argued.
Despite months of internecine
fighting and bitter divisions between various warring factions, UTJ succeeded
improving on its 2009 showing of five Knesset mandates.
political and rabbinic leadership had been extremely concerned with the
possibility that the internal squabbling would cost the party votes, but a
united front presented at the very end of the campaign seems to have averted
such an outcome.
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and his so-called “Jerusalem
faction” had threatened to run against UTJ with their newly founded Netzach
Although it became clear several weeks before the election that
the new faction would not participate in elections, concerns still abounded that
the dissatisfaction caused by the rift between Auerbach and the mainstream
non-hassidic haredi leadership would lead voters to stay at home and damage
UTJ’s share of the vote.
This scenario was also averted and UTJ
eventually received Auerbach’s backing, after guaranteeing the rabbi that the
party would consult with him before agreeing to any changes to military service
exemptions for yeshiva students.
UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler reportedly
visited Auerbach at his home in the capital on Wednesday to thank him for his
Coupled with Auerbach’s backing was the wave of declarations
from the country’s most senior haredi rabbis over the past two weeks, about the
severe consequences to the ultra-Orthodox community if it did not maximize its
electoral voice – a campaign which was seemingly effective in getting the
haredim out to vote.
Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, spiritual leader of the
haredi world, issued a call on Tuesday to get voter turnout; Rabbi Haim
Kanievsky, the second most senior figure, publicly declared that voting for UTJ
was a Torah obligation and doing so would bring “spiritual and material”
blessing; and various hassidic grand rabbis also called for a large turnout to
avert what is widely described as the “harsh decrees of the secular public”
against the haredi world.
The concerns relate to proposed legislation
seen as threatening to haredi interests, especially proposed legislation to
rescind mass exemptions from military service which full-time yeshiva students
were able to claim until last August.
UTJ also ran a comprehensive
Election Day field program in which the party MKs and candidates criss-crossed
the country, visiting haredi strongholds in Elad, Modi’in Illit, Beit Shemesh,
Kiryat Sanz in Netanya, and Bnei Brak, as well as Rehovot, Kiryat Malachi,
Kiryat Gat, Rishon Lezion and beyond.
One final boost for UTJ, as well as
for Shas, was the endorsement of the Tov movement, a new political constellation
professing to represent more moderate sectors of the haredi public who
participate in national service and integrate into the workforce.
movement seeks to address the concerns of this constituency and claims to have
the support of some 40,000 haredi voters.
Although Tov decided not to
contest the election, it drew up a list of demands that it requested UTJ and
Shas address in the coming Knesset to ensure its endorsement of the haredi
The demands included, among others, action to prevent
discrimination against Sephardi children in haredi schools; promoting haredi
employment; and assistance for haredim seeking to enter higher
Tov said that parts of its list had been accepted and
incorporated into the platforms of UTJ and Shas, and the movement thus granted
the traditional haredi parties its backing.