UTJ, Shas worried over high turnout

Religious parties worried that high voter turnout will hurt their relative representation in the Knesset.

Yishai brill 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Yishai brill 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
United Torah Judaism and Shas made a major effort to encourage party supporters to get out to the polls to vote Tuesday, as a relatively high turnout in the secular and national religious sectors led to concern among haredi party leaders that their slice of the total vote would be smaller this time around. The haredi parties usually benefit from a higher voter turnout than in other sectors, but on Tuesday amid reports of a high general turnout UTJ and Shas officials headed to the front lines to muster support. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, Shas Director-General Ya'acov Margi and other party leaders hunkered down at IDT's call center in Jerusalem and spent a good portion of election day on the phone encouraging potential supporters to exercise their democratic right. In Bnei Brak, UTJ activists strapped loudspeakers to car roofs and drove through the town urging residents to head to polling stations. "Get out and vote, every vote counts," the activists warned. Shas number 2 Ariel Attias appeared in the haredi media urging listeners to vote. "The voter turnout among secular, non-traditional people, in places like Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Givatayim is much higher than last time. We have to get the momentum going," Atias said. In the previous elections voter turnout was an all-time low of 63% . Tuesday morning after voting, Yishai called on Shas supporters to get out of the house despite the wintry weather and vote. "We have a real problem," said Yishai. "Lieberman supporters are used to braving the cold in Russia, while we have a more difficult time. But we have to overcome it and go and vote." Shas's spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef visited a poll booth in Jerusalem's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood after finishing morning prayers at his home. Afterwards, Yosef, who suffers from heart disease and a back problem, called on the faithful to vote. "Save the Torah world, go vote," ordered Yosef. This week in a videotaped message to Sephardi yeshiva students, Ovadia said that it was a religious commandment to vote. He said that it was permitted to discontinue Torah study to vote. Both Shas and UTJ invested large sums to pay for transportation for supporters who said they needed help getting to poll stations. A Jerusalem taxi driver said that while all the parties were spending money to finance transportation, UTJ and Shas were spending the most. "Most haredi families don't have cars so they rely more on public transportation," said the taxi driver. UTJ's Moshe Gafni, who spent the day visiting haredi neighborhoods all over the country, expressed concern that the public was indifferent. "If the public continues to be indifferent we will sustain a serious blow," said Gafni in an interview with the haredi online news outlet Behadarei Haredim. "But I believe that in the end everyone will vote," he added. "Maybe we will have to do some convincing. But the complete loyalty of the haredi public to the great Torah scholars will prove itself." Gafni was referring to the near consensus among haredi Ashkenazi rabbis that there was a religious obligation to vote for UTJ, as published in Yated Ne'man, Hamodia and the new haredi daily Hamevaser. One violent incident was reported by "Hakol Haharedi" a telephone news service, reported that fisticuffs broke out between members of the Gur Hassidic sect, the most dominant in the UTJ, and Shas supporters in Ashdod. Meanwhile, about 50 members of the more extremist Edah Haredit protested in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood in front of one of the local voting booths. The protesters shouted warnings to their fellow haredi voters that there was a religious prohibition against cooperating in any way with the Zionist state of Israel. Shas, which has consistently defied pollsters' forecasts in past elections, was expected to receive between nine and 10 Knesset seats according to most recent surveys, down from 12 in the last Knesset. UTJ was expected to receive five. Shas chairman Yishai is ranked no. 1 on Shas's list followed by Ariel Attias, who enjoys a close relationship with Shas spiritual mentor Yosef and his son Moshe Yosef. No. 3 on the list is Yitzhak Cohen, followed by MKs Amnon Cohen and Meshulam Nahari. MK Ya'acov Margi, head of the Shas Knesset faction, is No. 6 followed by David Azoulay, Yitzhak Vaknin, Nissim Ze'ev, Haim Amsalem and Avraham Michaeli. The No. 12 slot was reserved for MK Mazor Bayana, rabbi of an Ethiopian community of 10,000 in Beersheba. UTJ candidates for Knesset are: Litzman (Agudah), followed by MK Moshe Gafni (Degel), MK Meir Porush (Agudah), MK Uri Maklev (Degel), Menahem Eliezer Moses (Agudah), a Viznitz Hassid, Israeli Eichler (Agudah), a Belz Hassid, and Menahem Carmel (Degel).