Smotrich gets backing from Sephardi haredi rabbis

Support from ultra-Orthodox voters disappointed in UTJ and Shas could bring important electoral gains for the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist Party.

MK BEZALEL SMOTRICH speaks during a Knesset plenary session on August 24. (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)
MK BEZALEL SMOTRICH speaks during a Knesset plenary session on August 24.
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)
Rabbi Yitzhak Barda, a prominent leader of the Tunisian haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, on Monday endorsed the Religious Zionist Party.
It is “a mitzvah to vote for the Religious Zionist Party of [MK Bezalel] Smotrich,” he said, adding that it is a “mitzvah to tell everyone to vote for the Religious Zionist Party so that there will be the best government for the Jewish people.”
Barda is the head of the Yitzhak Yeranen educational institutions in Ashkelon.
His endorsement follows that of Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the most prominent haredi leader from the Tunisian community and Barda’s brother-in-law, who endorsed the Religious Zionist Party on Saturday night.
Mazuz said haredi voters who do not want to vote for United Torah Judaism or Shas should vote for the Religious Zionist Party to guarantee a right-wing government.
Mazuz praised religious-Zionist leader Rabbi Zvi Tau, who is the spiritual patron of the anti-LGBT Noam Party. Noam united with the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, which then joined with Smotrich’s National Union to form the Religious Zionist Party.
Mazuz said Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir was “a good man.”
Mazuz, the dean of the Kisse Rahamim Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, was the spiritual patron of former Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who lost a leadership battle to current Shas leader Arye Deri in 2013.
Yishai then established the Yahad Party, which was backed by Mazuz and united with Otzma Yehudit to contest the 2015 elections. It narrowly failed to cross the electoral threshold.
Mazuz and Yishai backed UTJ in the 2019 elections after Yahad, running alone, fared poorly in the polls.
Smotrich has been targeting haredi voters who are either disappointed by UTJ and Shas, in part due to their response to the COVID-19 crisis or are attracted to the Religious Zionist Party’s right-wing agenda.
Most Chabad Hassidim have right-wing views in keeping with the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s insistence on retaining all of the Land of Israel and opposition to territorial compromise.
So-called “modern haredim” who serve in the IDF and have integrated into the workforce are often less committed to the haredi political parties. They often are attracted to Smotrich’s party, as are small elements from other subsectors of the broader haredi community.
In response to Smotrich’s efforts to attract haredi voters, UTJ chairman Moshe Gafni on Monday said: “I recommend that MK Smotrich not insult the intelligence of the haredi community” with his appeals for its votes.
“He will not get votes from our community,” he said. “I told Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu this as well. He should look for votes in the Likud and not with us.”
UTJ has conducted a concerted campaign to dissuade wavering voters from going with the Religious Zionist Party, including having its senior rabbinic leadership warn of the spiritual perils of such a step.