Satmar distances itself from vote-buying claims

Hassidic sect debate electoral participation; Rabbinic leader calls Israel "this generation's Amalek."

Flyer calling haredim not to vote 370 (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
Flyer calling haredim not to vote 370
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
The ongoing debate within Israel’s haredi community over the permissibility of participating in elections was highlighted yesterday by the presence of signs both for and against voting hung throughout Jerusalem.
Streets in the hassidic neighborhood of Ezrat Torah were blanketed with flyers produced by the fiercely anti- Zionist Satmar sect, whose rabbinic leader, Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, arrived from New York earlier this week to organize an anti-voting campaign.
One widely distributed flyer, headlined “Is it forbidden to vote?” stated Jews are neither allowed to receive material benefit from the government nor to vote in the “Zionist elections.”
Teitelbaum addressed a large rally on Sunday evening in Mea She’arim, organized by the hassidic umbrella organization Edah Haredit, and told the crowd that the State of Israel is “this generation’s Amalek, and the Zionists are the offspring of Amalek.”
Speakers at the rally also called Israel the “state of hell” and other epithets.
One hassidic man at the rally, who was distributing anti-Zionist stickers to children, noted that he believes that it is a “grave Torah prohibition to vote.” This, he explained, is because Judaism forbids Jewish sovereignty in Israel prior to the arrival of the messiah.
But many in the non-hassidic ‘Lithuanian’ and Sephardic communities in Israel believe that voting for parties such as United Torah Judaism and Shas is a religious imperative.
In a letter distributed widely throughout the country, prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky stated that “it is obligatory” to vote for UTJ.
“All who do so will merit great success both spiritually and materially,” he promised.
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has also deemed voting a religious obligation. In 2006, Yosef even went so far as to curse those “who do not fulfill the word of this Torah” to vote.
“I [decree] a Halacha that one must vote and influence Shas,” he said.
Despite Satmar’s opposition to voting, the hassidic group has failed to make good on its alleged promise to pay members of the public $100 each to refrain from casting a ballot.
According to reports, Teitelbaum was slated to distribute money from centers in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak to anyone willing to deposit their ID cards and drivers’ licenses for the duration of Election Day.
However, no evidence of any such activity was seen at the Satmar synagogue in Ezrat Torah, one of the locations claimed in the media as a disbursement center for electoral payments. Hassidim at the location denied any intention of accepting ID cards, saying that their opposition to elections does not extend to bribery or fraud.
Any claims to the contrary, they asserted, were intended to harm their sect’s public image.
One hassidic man stated that his rebbe did indeed arrive in Israel with six million dollars, but that the cash was intended to fund educational institutions that refuse to accept money from the Education Ministry.
“Those who say to vote have their ideology and we have ours,” a second hassidic man told The Jerusalem Post.
“The Holocaust was caused by Zionism and it is forbidden to participate in elections or have a share in the state.”
“Haredi MKs will not be able to stop the army enlistment decree and God does not want us to make an effort beyond what he expects of us,” said another.
“Why should I vote?” One bystander, a member of the Lithuanian community, said that he was voting for UTJ because his rabbis instructed that it is necessary to vote for “any party so long as it is haredi.”
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, the director of the NGO Hiddush and a religious rights advocate, commented that he believes that “either Satmar just wanted attention and did not intend to go through with their offer or they were scared off by all of the negative publicity.
“There is no doubt in my mind as to the illegality of offering money for not voting,” he said. “It now looks like Satmar understood that as well.”
According to a complaint by Hiddush to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein against the sect, payments in exchange for boycotting the election violate Articles 122 and 123 of the Elections Law.
“Clearly the initiative Hiddush took to involve the attorney-general and police helped preempt a gross violation of the law,” said Regev.
“We are glad to see that a firm stand on the rule of law can deter religious extremists.”