Ultra-Orthodox voters ‘fighting for their lives’ on Election Day

Messaging of ultra-Orthodox parties UTJ and Shas, that the elections are a war for the protection of religious life in Israel and the honor of God, are felt strongly at the voting booth.

September 17, 2019 16:11
2 minute read.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man helps kids cast his ballot at a polling station on April 9, 2019

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man helps kids cast his ballot at a polling station as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, in Jerusalem April 9, 2019. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Voters in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem got up early on Tuesday morning to pray, and then to vote.

Men could be seen coming to voting stations with their prayer shawls and tefillin in hand, having left synagogue to perform what has become another religious obligation in the lives of the ultra-Orthodox: voting for their political parties.

The vitriolic campaign waged by Yisrael Beytenu and its leader Avigdor Liberman, as well as promises by Blue and White to exclude the ultra-Orthodox from the government in the next Knesset, have given the ultra-Orthodox parties ample fodder with which to motivate their electorate to go and vote.

Politicians from ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas have used incendiary rhetoric describing the elections as a war, as well as accusing Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White of waging a war on God, the Torah and religious people.

This sentiment was widespread among voters Tuesday morning.

Simon Goldberg, who lives in New York but has Israeli citizenship, said he returned to Israel specifically to vote for United Torah Judaism because, he said, the election would determine if religious Jews could continue to live in Israel.

“We are fighting for our life, we are fighting for our house,” said Goldberg outside a polling station in the Ezrat Torah neighborhood in Jerusalem.

“If they [religious people] lose [the election] they have to take a flight back to New York or Europe,” he asserted.

Goldberg said that there would be oppression of religious people if the religious and right-wing parties did not win the election, and protested the promises of Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White to exclude the ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist parties from government.

“In which country would you see big signs saying we’re doing a government without the religious. If they said government without Ethiopians or government without Arabs, everyone would scream.

“Here in Israel you see signs 'government without religious people.' What is that? Even in Germany they didn’t do that.”

Haim, a voter from the Gur hassidic community who went to vote at 8 o’clock in the morning at the same polling station, said he had voted for UTJ “because the grand rabbi of Gur told me to do so,” and described the elections as “an emergency situation.”

Haim said that, “The secular parties are seeking Knesset seats on the back of the ultra-Orthodox,” and added that such parties were “fighting God,” and that religious people need to fight back for the “honor of God.”

He said that he did not feel personally threatened by the rhetoric and promises of Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White, but said that the fact that such parties were trying to “undermine” religious life required him and all other ultra-Orthodox voters to vote for their parties and thereby “sanctify God’s name.”

UTJ chairman and Deputy Health Minister MK Yaakov Litzman reinforced this sentiment at the same polling station, saying that the elections were “fateful” for the ultra-Orthodox community and that members of the community had to listen to their rabbis and go and vote.

“People must go and vote en masse in accordance with what their rabbis are telling them,” Litzman told the press outside the polling station.

“If everyone votes in accordance with what their rabbis say, we can get to a [majority of] 61 seats.”

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