Israel police carry a haredi protestor during an anti-conscription demonstration in Jerusalem, March 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The past two weeks saw the political arena reeling once again, as a result, the IDF exemption for Yeshiva students in Israel. The long-standing strife between secular and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews once again came to the fore, with a serious early election scare that was ultimately foiled.
The speculations on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s possible interest in a government crisis fed Israeli media columnists for days. But the more important story was not spelled out but rather written between the lines of haredi newspapers.
While the haredim might seem like a unified political bloc to an outsider, an insider can quickly surmise that this is an overestimation. The haredi street is not united as it was in the past; in the last elections, United Torah Judaism lost a mandate – which was caused by the late Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s dissent from the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah party, following the controversy surrounding the draft law. Shas, too, was bleeding – former chairman Eli Yishai joined forces with the Kahanists, and ran at the head of a far-right party. Although he did not pass the threshold, Eli Yishai caused a serious hit to Shas.
In the face of these divisions, all that is needed is the fear of a Yeshiva draft to reunite the camp. The rabbis who led the Lithuanian stream within ultra-Orthodox society, Auerbach and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, have passed away in recent months. Despite the fierce rivalry between them that lasted for years, they held their community in a centralized manner. In the meantime, they have not left behind an agreed-upon successor. It is precisely the external threat that can replace the authority from the inside, and allow the ultra-Orthodox to close ranks.
In addition, the rivalry between the Lithuanian and hassidic camps was fiercely apparent as the strong man in their Agudat Yisrael party, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman of the leading Gur sect, insisted on a hard line ultimatum.
His counterparts in Degel Hatorah were not appreciative of his strategy that they felt was too risky.
While elections were circumvented with a last-minute agreement, the line has been drawn for a recurrent political battle in the near future. The best thing that can happen politically for haredim is a pro-Yeshiva draft campaign by Lieberman.
Lapid will not fall into that pit once again – his eye is on the prime ministerial position and he foresees his need for haredi support eventually. Such a campaign will temporarily unify the haredi bloc for as long as it takes to create yet another political solution, which would succeed in securing the maximum possible number of mandates for the haredi parties.
Pnina Pfeuffer is a haredi activist and board member of the Yerushalmim municipal party. Eli Bitan is a haredi journalist and radio host.