Chabad to remain neutral in election

It is unlikely that the Chabad movement will throw its considerable weight behind a political party in the election, Rabbi Menahem Gluckowsky, deputy secretary of Chabad's Rabbinic Court, said Thursday. The court is the senior decision-making body for Chabad Hassidim in Israel. Gluckowsky was responding to media reports that Chabad was considering an endorsement of Agudat Yisrael, which is part of United Torah Judaism. "Chabad is not a political movement," said Gluckowsky. "The rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson] rarely supported any particular party. He always told to us to vote for the party that was the most God-fearing." UTJ, Shas and the National Union-National Religious Party all fit that description, said Gluckowsky. "Chabad belongs to everyone," said a respected Chabad figure who preferred to remain anonymous. "As soon as you come out in support of any particular party you exclude a part of the Jewish people," he said. According to a report in the haredi weekly Bekehila, Rabbi Tovia Bloi, a Chabad rabbi in Jerusalem's Neveh Ya'acov neighborhood, sent a letter to Agudat Yisrael promising Chabad support if Aguda promised to oppose any future territorial concessions. Bloi is known to favor moving Chabad closer to Agudat Yisrael. He has voiced concern in the past that Chabad was becoming too influenced by religious Zionism. The idea of supporting Aguda was rejected by writers on the Web site, which is run by the movement's messianic stream. "There is no truth to the reports," wrote the site. "Chabad learned its lesson after supporting Binyamin Netanyahu in the summer of 1996." The site was referring to the "Bibi is good for the Jews" campaign Chabad used to help Netanyahu's effort against Labor's Shimon Peres in that year's national election. However, Menachem Geshayd, an Aguda spokesman, said negotiations between his party and Chabad were in "advanced stages." During the past month, there has been growing pressure on Chabad leaders to issue an endorsement. "A lot of Hassidim are asking the rabbis to recommend a political party," said Chabad spokesman Menachem Brod. "People are confused. They want the rabbis to decide," he said. All three possibilities are problematic for Chabad. Support for Shas is unlikely due to the Sephardi party's support for territorial compromises in the framework of a peace agreement. The ideological divide between religious Zionists and the haredi Chabad, and the fact that the NRP sat in the government during the preparations for disengagement make it a problematic choice. "One thing is for sure," said Gluckowsky. "No Chabad Hassid should waste a vote. That's why I recommend not voting for Baruch Marzel. The rebbe always said that every vote is important and must not be wasted." According to polls, Marzel's Jewish National Front party was unlikely to receive the 2 percent of votes needed to enter the next Knesset.