Shas rally in Tel-Aviv.
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
Despite dropping a combined five seats in Tuesday’s election, Shas and United Torah Judaism look well placed to enter the next government in light of the changed political circumstances that are taking shape.
Shas in particular took a hefty blow, loosing four of its 11 seats, a whopping 36% of its former standing.
The serious decline in Shas’s Knesset representation is a result, in part, of damage done by the failed Yahad party, led by Eli Yishai, which was able to draw some ultra-Orthodox voters away from the mainstream party.
The majority of the damage must be attributed, however, to the loss of the party’s venerated late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who by dint of his personality and charisma, was able to draw non-haredi, Sephardi voters in large numbers.
Shas chairman Arye Deri can and did take comfort in the fact that he managed to vanquish his rival Yishai once again, and that he has the arena of Sephardi haredi Jewry all to himself.
“There is one Maran [Yosef]. There is one Torah. There is one Shas,” he declared triumphantly after the results came in Tuesday night.
“There was a tremendous sifting today, but we’ve been left with a clean, fine flour,” Deri continued in reference to Yishai, adding that he could not “build Shas anew.”
UTJ suffered a set back, loosing their treasured seventh seat that had been out of reach for many years until 2013.
But despite dropping a mandate, the party managed to increase the number of votes it received in 2013 from 196,000 to 206,000. This achievement was obtained despite the fact that the rebel Jerusalem Faction group de facto boycotted UTJ because of internal conflicts within the haredi community.
The increase in the actual number of votes it received is likely not due to any broader appeal the sectoral party achieved but rather as a result of the intense get-out-to-vote campaign it conducted. The barrage of instructions from the rabbinical leadership urging the community to vote as a matter of religious obligation, especially in light of the communal divide with the Jerusalem Faction, was an additional factor.
Despite their losses, both Shas and UTJ presented their results as victories due to the defeats sustained to their rivals. Shas is satisfied in that it defeated Yahad and Yishai and that it can claim to be the sole representative of Sephardi haredi Jewry. United Torah Judaism is content, because its arch foe Yesh Atid suffered a heavy diminution in the number of seats it took, falling from 19 to 11.
The two parties will likely never forgive Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid for freezing them out of the last government, as well as for the law for haredi conscription and other measures enacted loathed by haredi leadership.
Both Shas and UTJ said they would refuse to sit with Lapid in the next government, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted repeatedly that he would bring the haredi factions back into a coalition after the election.
Both parties are therefore likely to be in the next government and gain the opportunity to water-down the Conscription Law and roll back the budget cuts to the haredi sector forced through under Lapid.
These changed political circumstances mean that the overall decline of haredi Knesset representation by more than 25% will not have a great impact on the projection of their political power in the coming government.
The hard-line hybrid haredi-national- religious Yahad party led by Yishai received a laudable 118,000 votes, but with only 2.98% of the vote failed to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold.