Members of the Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael parties.
(photo credit: UNITED TORAH JUDAISM)
Agudat Yisrael chairman and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has come out against Benny Gantz and his political aspirations, accusing him of being a Yair Lapid clone and of adopting an anti-haredi agenda.
Litzman’s comments demonstrated the immediate suspicion the haredi political parties have adopted toward Gantz’s rising political fame. He reiterated that Agudat Yisrael will recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government, regardless of whether he is indicted or not.
Litzman made his comments during a panel discussion at the Agudat Yisrael conference held in Netanya on Wednesday night, alongside his fellow MKs and deputy ministers Meir Porush, Menachem Eliezer Mozes and Yisrael Eichler.
“Until now, we only had one Lapid, but yesterday this Gantz said severe things against the haredi community, repeating [Yesh Atid chairman Yair] Lapid’s program,” said Litzman.
The Agudat Yisrael chairman warned Gantz that if he insists on enacting the law of civil union partnerships – a lesser form of civil marriage – and allowing public transportation on Shabbat, as he outlined in his maiden political speech on Tuesday night, Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party would be left to scramble for just a handful of Knesset mandates.
Porush largely concurred with his political comrade, quipping that, “when Gantz opened his mouth, it wasn’t clear if he was Lapid or Gantz.”
The deputy education minister conceded that “Netanyahu isn’t a tzaddik
[saintly person],” but nevertheless, he “doesn’t open his mouth against us [the haredi community] and against Jewish tradition.”
The panel discussion was more open and candid than might have been expected, and dealt with thorny issues for haredi parties such as concerns about the desertion of some United Torah Judaism (UTJ) voters to the Likud or other non-haredi parties.
In the 2015 elections, some 25,000 haredi voters voted for Likud, worth almost an entire Knesset seat. This is a worrying phenomenon for the haredi parties.
Eichler said that it would be very sad if members of the haredi community voted for the Likud, and that it would be worthwhile for them to vote for UTJ in order to protect the haredi way of life.
Litzman opined that the problem is not as serious as has been portrayed, but said that if UTJ
addresses the needs of haredi men and women who will vote or are inclined to vote for the Likud, it could bring them back to the haredi party fold.
Many of those haredim, who have voted for the Likud in national or municipal elections, are thought to be part of the so-called “modern haredi” sector: those who have possibly served in the IDF, gained a higher education, entered the labor force and adopted other aspects of modernity.
It is frequently claimed that UTJ does not sufficiently look out for their needs, but takes care of the needs of its traditional voters, such as increasing yeshiva stipends, social welfare benefits and other requirements of the mainstream haredi community.
The panelists were also quizzed about their goals for the incoming Knesset.
Both Litzman and Porush noted that a main goal would be to secure a new legal framework for mass exemptions
from military service for yeshiva students – to help ensure the longstanding status quo that a haredi man who wants to study in yeshiva should be permitted to do so without any hindrance.
Litzman said that UTJ would work on this issue “the day after the elections,” given that the High Court of Justice has ruled that a new law must be passed by the end of July 2019.
Porush even hinted that UTJ could introduce a basic law to enshrine the inviolable rights of a person to study Torah, acting as a safeguard against the High Court and striking down a new arrangement for mass military service exemptions, which it has never done before.
Alongside the issue of haredi enlistment, Litzman mentioned protecting the sanctity of Shabbat as a primary goal for the next Knesset, saying that UTJ had “failed” on this issue. He promised to introduce legislation to stop the desecration of Shabbat by state agencies in the public domain.