DEGEL HATORAH and Agudat Yisrael councils 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Goldstein)
The recent municipal elections proved to be something of a trauma for haredi politics, centered around the long-simmering feud between Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael over the distribution of seats within the joint United Torah Judaism faction.
But the outlook for Ashkenazi haredi political unity in the upcoming national election now appears rosy, with sources in both parties indicating that a deal to run together, once again, will likely be secured.
Relations between the two parties descended to a nadir during the recent municipal elections, and so bitter were the recriminations that the historic political unity between Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah seemed in danger.
Some sobering election results for Aguda, representing the hassidic community, and its political leader, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, appear to have had a salutary effect on the party, which now seems eager make concessions to Degel, representing the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” haredi community, in order to arrive at an agreement.
Aguda has always received a greater share of seats within UTJ at a ratio of 60:40, since the hassidic community, which Aguda represents, was historically larger than the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” community, which Degel represents.
But Degel scored significant victories over Aguda in the municipal elections in October, such as in Jerusalem, where Degel took six seats and Aguda just three, while several personal defeats for Litzman demonstrated that the old share of the electoral spoils is no longer justifiable.
According to a source in Degel, Aguda “now understands” that the division of Knesset seats should be equal. The municipal election results put this issue to rest, the source added.
Relations between the two parties had sunk so low that there was even speculation that Degel could run together with Shas, the Sephardi haredi party, in national elections, leaving Aguda in the perilous situation of possibly not crossing the electoral threshold and disappearing altogether from the Knesset.
It now appears that Aguda has quickly reconciled itself with the new political reality, and is ready to compromise.
Two days ago, Litzman and senior Degel MK Moshe Gafni met in Gafni’s office to discuss the issue of running on a joint slate, and progress toward a 50:50 split of Knesset seats seems likely.
A source in Aguda confirmed that it appears the two parties will be able to come to an agreement to run together.
Speaking on Tuesday, Degel MK Yaakov Asher said that the haredi community was expecting unity from its political leaders and said that if the two parties united as quickly as possible UTJ would be able to concentrate on campaigning and increase its electoral power.
Speaking from the Knesset podium on Wednesday, Asher also had some choice words for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and sharply criticized him for first backing the haredi enlistment bill and then flip-flopping by refusing to support which indirectly led to the collapse of the government.
“After a few hours with his media advisers he understood that had made the mistake of his life [in backing the bill] because if the bill would pass he would have nothing left to sell, who would have no other way of inciting and to conduct a campaign based on hatred in order to become prime minister,” said Asher.
Who formally heads the Knesset faction is yet to be decided, as is the question of which party would get the extra seat, should UTJ obtain an odd number of seats – most likely seven, if the polls are to be believed.
A rotation system whereby a representative from one party serves as MK for the first half of the Knesset term and resigns in favor of a representative of the other party could work. The “Norwegian Law,” whereby a deputy minister could resign as an MK to enable the next candidate on the UTJ Party list to enter the Knesset, could be another solution. Both arrangements have been used in the past.
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