Haredi man and IDF soldiers in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A poll surveying the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community has exposed a change in the demographics of the sector, a revelation that could have important political ramifications.
According to the poll, which was conducted for the B’hadrei Haredim haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news website by strategist Nati Gamliel over the past two months and which was published on Sunday, 54.4 percent of the Ashkenazi haredi community in Israel is non-hassidic while 45.6 percent is hassidic.
The hassidic sector has claimed over the last two decades that the ratio of hassidic versus non-hassidic Jews within the Israeli Ashkenazi haredi sector is 60:40 in its favor. This claim has underpinned the division of the political spoils within the United Torah Judaism party in the Knesset, which represents the Ashkenazi haredi community.
UTJ is comprised of two components: Degel Hatorah representing the non-hassidic or “Lithuanian” community, and Agudat Yisrael, which represents the hassidic community.
Since 1992, the two parties have run together under the joint banner of UTJ but the electoral list has not been divided equally. This was due to the assumption that hassidic Jews represented the dominant faction among Ashkenazi haredim in Israel.
In this year’s general election, the top six positions on UTJ’s list once again included four candidates from the hassidic community and only two from the non-hassidic community. Since the party took six seats, there is now an imbalance in the representation of the two communities, with four MKs for Agudat Yisrael and just two for Degel Hatorah.
This disparity in political representation may again be called into question if the poll findings can be verified. Degel Hatorah has claimed for years that it now represents the larger portion of the Ashkenazi haredi sector, while Agudat Yisrael has internally acknowledged that the split between the two groups is at least 50-50.
Since the March election, UTJ has been beset by a persistent undercurrent of instability between Degel and Agudah due to the imbalance in the distribution of MKs between the two parties.
The fact that Degel had enjoyed a third MK in the 19th Knesset added to the internal grappling between the two party factions.
The antagonism has extended to disputes over appointments to Knesset committees, with party insiders reportedly worried the wrangling could get worse rather than better.
Because of the loss of its seventh seat, filled by former MK Yaakov Asher of Degel, UTJ campaigned for the adoption of the so-called Norwegian Law that was approved at the end of the Knesset’s summer session. The law will allow ministers or deputy ministers to resign from their party in order to allow the next person on the party’s electoral list to enter the Knesset.
Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of Agudat Yisrael is the only possible candidate to resign in favor of Asher, but despite the fact that the law was passed three weeks ago, a decision for Porush to step down has yet been made.
This is attributable in large part to the internal disagreement within the party.