Internal haredi political conflict continues as Degel Hatorah condemns no-vote threat

Faction chairman and senior haredi MK Moshe Gafni disparaged the radical Jerusalem Faction's violent protest against haredi conscription.

Haredi protestors at the Bar Ilan junction in Jerusalem (photo credit: NEWS 24)
Haredi protestors at the Bar Ilan junction in Jerusalem
(photo credit: NEWS 24)
The recriminations within the Ashkenazi non-hassidic haredi world continued apace over the weekend and on Sunday as the mainstream Degel Hatorah and the rebel Jerusalem Faction accused each other of responsibility for the conflict within the community.
Speaking at an activists conference for Degel, faction chairman and senior haredi MK Moshe Gafni disparaged the proclivity of the radical Jerusalem Faction to take to the streets in violent protest against haredi conscription, the cause célèbre of the rebellious group, and its threat not to vote in the coming election.
Last week, the Jerusalem Faction, headed by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 84, staged a massive rally in the capital to celebrate the release of four yeshiva students from prison who had been arrested for refusing to present themselves for preliminary processing at IDF conscription offices.
Several thousand people turned out for the rally in a show of strength by the group to Degel Hatorah, which has frozen the rebel faction out of political representation.
The animosity between the two sides is so great that although Bnei Torah, the Jerusalem Faction’s political party, is not running in the general election, the movement’s leaders have strongly indicated that Auerbach will instruct his loyalists not to vote for United Torah Judaism (the alliance of Degel Hatorah and the hassidic Agudat Yisrael party).
“We do not need to conduct protests. We do need to bring people who are close to us, even those who aren’t religious or haredi, to vote for us,” said Gafni in Bnei Brak Saturday night, saying that those who didn’t help bring votes for UTJ would have to give an accounting to God.
“They will say... ‘Because of you, and that you didn’t vote and you didn’t bring more people to vote, conscription [of haredi men] was carried out. If you would have voted, conscription wouldn’t have been carried out,’” continued the MK, in clear reference to Bnei Torah loyalists.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem Faction, responding to accusations by the mainstream haredi activists that it was damaging the community’s political strength, plastered posters around Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and other haredi cities accusing Degel of causing the societal divide.
The posters included accounts of discrimination in haredi schools by teachers against children of Jerusalem Faction loyalists and the exclusion of yeshiva students loyal to the Jerusalem Faction from a yeshiva in Hadera.
The Jerusalem Faction opposes the leadership of the mainstream non-hassidic haredi community of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman. Since Shteinman, 101, was acknowledged as leader of the community, Auerbach has set up his rival Bnei Torah party which ran in municipal elections in 2013, gaining seats in haredi strongholds Jerusalem, Modi’in Illit and Bnei Brak.
Political leaders of the Bnei Torah party say they were forced to establish a new party because the leadership of Degel has refused to grant them political representation in national and municipal electoral lists ever since Shteinman inherited the mantle of haredi leadership in 2012.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, Bnei Torah party chairman and Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem for the Bnei Torah party Haim Epstein said that Degel complaints that Bnei Torah will instruct its supporters not to vote for UTJ are misplaced.
“This is not our problem anymore. They [Degel] decided to ignore us and persecute us, so how can they now ask for our vote? Why should we give them more power?” Epstein asked.