Litzman to remain at helm of Aguda

The Ger Rebbe, Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, tapped Ya'acov Litzman Sunday to continue as the Ger Hassidic dynasty's representative in the 17th Knesset. Litzman, as the representative of the largest Hassidic sect in Israel, will continue to chair Agudat Yisrael. Litzman said after his meeting with the Ger rebbe that the main goals of Agudat Yisrael were primarily socioeconomic. "We plan to fight the cuts in child allowances and old-age benefits," said Litzman Sunday evening. The decision to allow Litzman to continue was somewhat of a surprise, since Ger Hassidim are to serve in no more than two Knessets by order of the rebbe. Litzman has already served in the 15th and the 16th Knessets. "The rebbe makes the rules and the rebbe can change the rules," commented one haredi source. The major task facing Litzman before the party list deadline on Thursday at midnight is to reunite with Degel Hatorah, which represents the interests of haredi Lithuanian Jewry. "If we work together, we can muster seven mandates," said Litzman. Polls give a united Degel-Aguda list six mandates. Sources close to both parties estimated that the two parties would unite at the last minute. "Nobody wants to be held responsible for fostering dissent in the haredi community," said a Degel source. "Nobody wants a rerun of 1988." In 1988 Degel, a new party created by legendary haredi spiritual leader Rabbi Elazar Menahem Man Shach, was pitted against Aguda, which was supported by Chabad rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneerson. Animosities split families, yeshiva learning partners and the haredi street. Also working against the split is the fact that, according to recent polls, Degel would not manage to muster the needed votes to enter the Knesset on its own. Nevertheless, a source close to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Degel's supreme spiritual leader, did not rule out the possibility. "There are thousands of Sephardi yeshiva students learning in Lithuanian yeshivot," said the source. "If we put the pressure on we could scrape together the half mandate we need" to reach the electoral threshold. Few Hassidic educational institutions accept Sephardi students. In contrast, many Lithuanian yeshivot and girls' schools accept a large percentage of Sephardi families. If Degel decided to flex its muscles and run alone, therefore, Shas would be hurt most. If the two haredi Ashkenazi parties reunite to form United Torah Judaism, the top five slots of the Knesset list would be unchanged. Aguda's Litzman, Meir Porush and Shmuel Halpert would receive, respectively, the first, third and fifth slots of the six realistic mandates. Degel's Avraham Ravitz and Moshe Gafni would take the second and fourth slots. Where, in the current Knesset, the parties held a rotation agreement whereby Halpert and Israel Eichler of the Belz Hassidic sect shared the fifth seat on a rotation basis, the increase in realistic slots has shifted the rotation agreement down one mandate. Should the parties achieve six mandates together, Eichler would share the sixth spot on the list with a Degel representative, each of whom would receive a two-year stint. Elyashiv has chosen Uri Maklev, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, to represent Degel. Most of Litzman's Knesset career has been served as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. He returned to the position in January after UTJ replaced Shinui, the National Religious Party and the National Union in the Sharon government.