Am Shalem looking outside haredi world for support

Maverick Shas MK Amsalem’s movement has a rapidly growing presence in social media and Anglo communities.

Amsalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Amsalem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Am Shalem is seeking unusual partners for a party led by a haredi rabbi, working hard to attract secular Israelis and English-speaking supporters, building its social-media presence and negotiating with other, non-haredi parties, in keeping with its platform of promoting Jewish unity.
The political movement led by maverick Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem is garnering most of its support from outside the haredi world, Rabbi Dov Lipman, director of Anglos for Am Shalem and one of Amsalem’s closest allies, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Amsalem launched Am Shalem last year, saying that Shas no longer reflects the values it was founded to promote. However, he is technically still an MK for Shas, though the party no longer allows him to submit bills.
“Rabbis will say we’re treif [not kosher] and horrible people,” Lipman said of the movement, an NGO that has yet to officially register as a political party. “But we know there are haredim on Facebook. Some are afraid to press ‘like’ on our page, but we are still able to get information to them.”
The party’s internal polls have shown that 40 percent of its support comes from people who identify as secular, 40% from religious Zionists and 20% from haredim.
Lipman attributes the party’s support from secular Israelis to a search for something new in politics, with a focus on internal issues.
In fact, Lipman added, there are many similarities between Am Shalem’s goals and those of Yair Lapid, such as requiring all haredi schools to teach the Education Ministry’s core curriculum and having most haredim serve in the IDF.
He did, however, deny rumors that the former Channel 2 news anchor has asked Amsalem to run for the Knesset with his party, though he opined that it would be a good idea.
Meanwhile, several other parties have asked Am Shalem to run with them.
Amsalem is seriously considering these offers, one of which is from Habayit Hayehudi, as long as he can maintain Am Shalem as a separate party within a faction.
Lipman said Am Shalem is looking to do what it can do “within reason” to get into the Knesset. This way, Amsalem can meet his ultimate goal of being religious services minister, so he can reform rabbinate services such as marriage, divorce, conversions and burial, so they can be friendlier to the average Israeli, while staying in the confines of Halacha.
According to the party’s polls, Am Shalem is likely to get two to three seats in the next Knesset, while Shas will probably drop two seats.
“Shas will come after us before the elections,” Lipman said. “We’re prepared for [Shas spiritual leader] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to make statements against us.”
Meanwhile, Am Shalem continues to recruit support outside the Sephardic-haredi box, with over 43,007 “likes” on its Hebrew-language Facebook page, far more than the party it broke off from, which has only 565 fans, its leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has 5,666, or even Yosef, who has 10,758 fans on two unofficial Facebook profiles.
Lipman was quick to clarify that 90% of Am Shalem’s Facebook fans live in Israel, since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s profile was shown to be “liked” mostly by people abroad after his office bragged that he was the most popular Israeli politician in Israel.
“A ‘like’ is not a vote, but it’s a good indicator of popularity,” Lipman pointed out, adding that the party has an active YouTube channel and Twitter account.
Lipman has accompanied Amsalem on two trips to the US, where he said he received positive feedback from large crowds in Los Angeles, New York and other large Jewish and Israeli expat communities.
“People said they were waiting for someone like Rabbi Amsalem to come along. They are scared about extremism in Israel on conversion, women’s issues and others,” he stated.
“It was eye-opening to see that our success is important to the Jewish world.”
Anglos for Am Shalem, which Lipman leads, has held events and recruited activists in several areas with many English-speakers, such as Modi’in, Ra’anana, Efrat and Jerusalem.
Lipman, who hails from Silver Spring, Maryland, explained that he got involved with Am Shalem after reading about Amsalem in the Post and years of frustration over rock-throwing and antagonism from haredim in Beit Shemesh, where he resides.
“There really is a lot Anglos can do,” Lipman explained, calling for more Anglo activists to be involved in Am Shalem.
“We can be a major force in Israel.”