Shas, UTJ join forces to protect haredi interests

18-mandate bloc to try and achieve reversal of deep cuts in child benefits.

haredi 88 (photo credit: )
haredi 88
(photo credit: )
United Torah Judaism and Shas will join forces to form an 18-mandate bloc that will work together to protect haredi interests during coalition negotiations. However, both parties were hesitant to say whether they would maintain the bloc even if it endangered their chances of joining the coalition. High on their priority list is the reversal of deep cuts in child benefits. Another shared interest is opposition to a constitution for fear it would increase the powers of the Supreme Court. Both Shas and UTJ also want to torpedo any attempts to institute civil marriage and to increase the state budget for Torah education. UTJ chairman Ya'acov Litzman said he would demand that child benefits would be returned to their level before the Halpert Large Families Law of 2000. As a result, a family with three children would receive NIS 680 a month. The family would receive NIS 600 each for the fourth and fifth child. A family of five would receive NIS 1,880. In contrast, a family of five presently receives NIS 1,157. The Halpert law, named after UTJ MK Shmuel Halpert, increased annual child benefits by a total of NIS 500 million. Although it was passed by a large majority, it later caused resentment among secular politicians and their constituents because it favored haredim who traditionally do not serve in the IDF and who often choose Torah scholarship over employment. The backlash led to drastic cuts in the child benefits. Shas chairman Eli Yishai endorsed Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to form a coalition and UTJ's Council of Torah Sages is expected to do the same. Olmert's decision not to include the convergence plan in his coalition guidelines paved the way for both parties to endorse him. Both Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Gerer Rebbe, Ya'acov Arye Alter, senior spiritual leader of Agudat Yisrael, the larger of the two parties that make up UTJ, are known to be opposed to unilateral withdrawal.