Analysis: The opening shots of Ger's campaign of vengeance

The most radical change is the undermining of the Ger Hassidic sect's hegemony within Agudat Yisrael.

Meir Porush 248-88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Meir Porush 248-88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
The results of the 2008 municipal votes point to some interesting haredi voting trends that could have a major impact on the haredi parties in upcoming national elections. The most radical change is the undermining of the Ger Hassidic sect's political hegemony within Agudat Yisrael. Gerer Rebbe Ya'acov Aryeh Alter waged a war against Meir Porush in Jerusalem and won. But bitter feelings remain, since a haredi leader openly came out against a fellow haredi and Hassid. Porush, whose Shlomei Emunim faction within Agudat Yisrael represents an amalgam of small hassidic sects such as Chabad, Sanz, Seret-Viznitz, Slonim and Karlin, will probably be unable to work together with Ger Hassidim in the wake of the Jerusalem elections. Ger sources told The Jerusalem Post that not only had Jerusalem's Ger voters, who number as many as 8,000, refrained from voting for Porush, many voted for Barkat. Meanwhile, in Beit Shemesh's mayoral race, Ger supported Shalom Lerner, a modern Orthodox candidate representing the National Religious Party, against Moshe Abutbul, a Shas candidate who enjoyed wide haredi support. Ger's willingness to support Lerner, whose religious Zionist ideology is as much of an anathema, if not more so, to some haredi sensibilities as secularism, so enraged the zealously anti-Zionist Eda Haredit followers in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet that hundreds disregarded an age-old tradition of boycotting the elections of the "evil Zionist state" and flocked to the voting booths. "It was an embarrassment to see the faithful going to the polls and voting," said Shmuel Poppenheim, a spokesman for the Eda Haredit. "This is not our way. Our rabbis have taught us that we must not have any connection with a group of apostates that rebelled against God. We will have to work hard to educate people that what they did was wrong even if the outcome was positive and Lerner lost." Undoubtedly, a power struggle for control of Agudat Yisrael will play itself out between Porush and Ger. Sources close to Porush confirmed Wednesday evening that Porush would seriously consider running on an independent list if pushed out of Aguda or given an unrealistic place on Aguda's list in the upcoming Knesset elections. If Porush does run alone, it would hurt both Aguda and Degel Hatorah, the two parties making up the Untied Torah Judaism list. Aguda would be hurt by lost hassidic votes such as Chabad, Breslav, and other smaller sects that Porush would take. But Porush might also appeal to a growing number of haredim of different backgrounds that have suffered discrimination. Lithuanian haredim who work, Sephardim not affiliated with Shas, American haredim and the newly religious all have difficulty integrating into mainstream haredi society. TOV, a party that attempted to cater to those groups, managed to receive a seat on the Beit Shemesh city council. Another interesting development is Shas's strong showing. In three haredi towns - Beit Shemesh, Elad and Emmanuel - Shas managed to get mayoral candidates elected. In Ashdod, a candidate with strong ties to Shas, Yehiel Lasry, replaced incumbent Zvi Zilker, putting an end to his almost 40-year stint as mayor. Shas managed to increase its strength in numerous cities and maintain its strength in most of the others. For instance, Shas managed to double its representation in Netanya and introduce a member to the secular Ramat Hasharon local council. In Shas, the results are seen as a harbinger of the national elections. "This is a major victory for Shas," said party chairman Eli Yishai. "We are sure that our success on the local level will be translated into the vote for the Knesset."