‘No one knows Yair Lapid except through the media’

Haredim "very worried" over success of Yesh Atid.

Yair Lapid addressing supporters in post election speech 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Yair Lapid addressing supporters in post election speech 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
The haredi community is sweating over its political future as a result of the strong showing of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party in Tuesday’s Knesset elections.
Despite a strong showing at the polls for both Shas and United Torah Judaism, with the latter managing to increase its Knesset representation from six to seven, the rise of the secularist-centrist Yesh Atid to become the second largest party may pose great difficulties for the country’s ultra-Orthodox.
Lapid, whose meteoric rise surprised many, has pledged to focus on social issues, including that of equality of military service, and may make support for action on this issue a prerequisite for entering into a coalition with the Likud. He has previously stated that he will not enter into a coalition that includes both Shas and UTJ.
It is now possible, Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute said on Thursday, that “if Prime Minister Netanyahu wants, he can form a coalition without the haredim. Yesh Atid, which is a crucial partner of Netanyahu this time, could make the drafting issue a condition for the coalition agreement. So all this is a real threat for the haredim.”
The haredi community is “very very worried,” Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, the former spokesman of the anti- Zionist hassidic umbrella organization, the Edah Haredit, told The Jerusalem Post.
Pappenheim, a member of the insular Toldos Aharon sect, is nowadays considered a haredi moderate. He has worked with Yesh Atid MK-elect Rabbi Dov Lipman to calm religious tensions in Beit Shemesh.
“These are new people in politics and nobody knows them and no one knows Yair Lapid except through the media,” Pappenheim said. “I went out to inform several haredi organizations that I know them and that there is nothing to fear, but they are all very much stressed and fearful. They are scared that they will not be allowed into the coalition, and if they are, it will be with many concessions.”
The haredi political parties, Pappenheim asserted, “don’t know what to do at all. They are looking for people with whom to open a dialogue with this new party.”
At the same time, the parties are “trying to lean on Netanyahu and people within the Likud with whom they know how to deal, but with Lapid, in a direct manner, and his party, there is currently no give and take.”
The word on the haredi street is that “Lapid is very populist and he will try bend the haredi community,” Pappenheim said.
The haredim believe, however, that they will win in the end, he asserted.
“There are those who know that there will be some sort of compromise and are discussing how to do that, and there are those in the community who say that it is forbidden to discuss any sort of compromise.”
According to Pappenheim, haredi politicians are worried over obtaining positions in the new government.
MK Arye Deri, one of the three top leaders of Shas, acted confident following the publication of the election results, saying that his party receiving 11 mandates was a “miracle.”
Eli Yishai, another member of the party’s ruling triumvirate, told Channel 10 that “no coalition government will be established without the inclusion of Shas.”
His brave face belies a grave worry, said Uri Regev, head of the NGO Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality.
“While the haredi leadership is voicing satisfaction from their achievements, being able to maintain their representation, and in the case of United Torah Judaism to grow it, the truth behind those smiling faces and confident statements is a tremendous fear and anxiety over the new political landscape,” he told the Post. “They understand that the long era in which the well-being of the government depended on their goodwill, and therefore they could name their price and get it in return for their votes, is over.”
Regev may have been referring to a statement attributed in the press to an anonymous senior member of Shas who said that his party was “not shying away from going into the opposition. We’ve been there before.”
As Lapid’s party continued to climb in the polls during the campaign, the worries of the haredi community could be seen by way of the strident posters adorning walls and hanging from balconies in their communities.
One such poster read: “We stand on the watch. No compromises or concessions,” while another bore the slogan “Against the decrees we are all ‘haredim’ [fearful].”
In Bnei Brak, some haredim even received fake draft notices from UTJ instructing them to report for induction the day after the election.
Yesh Atid can accomplish “positive things, but it can also be the cause of negative things,” said Eli Friedman, the head of the moderate haredi Tov party in Beit Shemesh. The party fields candidates in municipal but not national elections.
If Yesh Atid “doesn’t act with smarts the haredim will go out to the streets in protest,” Friedman said. “They fear it.”
Lipman has a more positive view of the relationship that his party can have with his community.
“During the campaign I was attacked a lot about my association with Yair, and they even made jokes about my unrealistic spot on the list,” Lipman told the Post. “Now they are talking about how Yair has values and does not hate them, that our plan is something they can work with and that I am ‘a haredi MK for Yesh Atid.’”