Saturday, May 25, 2024

Elections for the Twentieth Knesset

Stories from the Election Campaign Less than forty days remain until the elections for the Twentieth Knesset of the State of Israel. By law, Israeli elections always take place on a Tuesday. In this column, we will follow the events leading up to the elections and present some small stories - or some not-so-small stories - that are relevant to the process.


As was expected, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal against the Knesset’s decision to raise the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 3.5 percent. We mentioned in the past that the chances of the appeal succeeding were always slim. Even the attorney who submitted the appeal, Yehuda Gutman, admitted in an interview with the Yated at the time that he expected it to be rejected. And the reason is clear: The Supreme Court of Israel rarely disqualifies a law passed by the Knesset. There is a certain balance of terror between these two institutions – the legislative and judicial branches of the government – with each knowing that if it goes too far in challenging the other’s authority, a war would erupt.

As was expected, the decision was made by the majority of the justices, with a minority opposing it. And another predictable detail was the fact that it was the Arab justice, Salim Jubran, who was the dissenting voice in this case. Jubran felt that the law should be overturned, for a simple reason: It might harm the Arab parties. But the other eight justices on the court were opposed to the idea. These judges included outgoing Chief Justice Asher Grunis and his temporary replacement, Miriam Naor, along with Justices Esther Chayout, Neil Hendel, Chanan Meltzer, Uzi Fogelman, Yoram Danziger, and Elyakim Rubinstein. The justices added a provision to their ruling that if the results of the upcoming elections demonstrate that the higher threshold harmed any citizen of the country, a new appeal should be submitted before the elections for the Twenty-First Knesset.

As of now, the threshold has been set at 3.5 percent. That means that any party that receives about 135,000 votes will not make it into the Knesset and those votes will be lost.


When Eli Yishai, who served as the chairman of the Shas party for the past 13 years, resigned from Shas, his move became a hot topic for discussion everywhere.

At the time, there was talk of Yishai joining with Uri Ariel of Tekuma, who later refused the offer and remained with Bayit Yehudi. I also asked him, “Even if you join Tekuma and make it past the electoral threshold, what will you gain? At the most, you will be a government minister. In Shas, you are guaranteed more than that!”

Our concern, of course, is for the potential loss of votes. Eli Yishai ultimately joined forces with the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane. It is most likely that the two groups will pass the threshold together. In the previous election, the Kahane group received 67,000 votes, lacking only a few thousand to pass the threshold, which was lower at the time. Some pundits feel, though, that while Eli Yishai is “worth” about 65,000 votes, a large number of those votes come from the supporters of Ben-Ari and Marzel. In other words, the two groups together would not receive the 135,000 votes needed to cross the threshold.

If Yishai and his party do not make it across the threshold, it will be bad for all of us. The chareidim will lose three or four seats in the Knesset. The most recent polls have shown Yishai’s party, Yachad, hovering close to that line. Those four mandates are very much at stake.


It is important to keep in mind that in our history – meaning the history of the chareidi community – there have been many votes lost on account of such adventurous efforts. Plenty of politicians have believed that they would pass the electoral threshold and failed.

I will never forget the argument I had with my good friend, Rabbi Shimon Ben-Shlomo, who served as a member of the Knesset for the Shas party in its first term in 1984 and resigned from the party toward the end of the term, before the elections for the Twelfth Knesset. He established his own independent list, called “Yishai” (an acronym for “Yachad Shivtei Yisroel”), feeling that the Yemenite community was large enough for him to cross the electoral threshold with their votes. His actions caused 3,000 votes to go to waste. In the elections for the Thirteenth Knesset, Rabbi Yitzchok Peretz broke off from Shas and established a one-man party, Moriah, which he allied with Agudas Yisroel. Immediately after the elections, he resigned in a huff when his new friends at Agudas Yisroel claimed that he had failed to deliver on his promises and that he hadn’t brought any votes. In the elections for the Fourteenth Knesset, Rabbi Yosef Ezran zt”l left Shas to run with the Telem Emunah party, which he established, wasting 12,000 votes.

The threshold of 135,000 votes that Yishai must cross in order to enter the Knesset is very high. Let us hope that his actions do not cause great damage to the Torah world.


It can be entertaining, occasionally surprising, and always fascinating to look through old newspapers. It gives you an opportunity to see just how much the promises of politicians, both on the national level and on the municipal level, are worth. It also gives you a chance to assess the reliability of the political pundits of the day and to discover journalists who were once rising stars but have since completely faded away.

This week, I found an article that was printed in Maariv 15 years ago titled, “The Rav Ovadiah Yosef We Didn’t Know.” It is a seven-page article that is noteworthy not only for its length, and not only for the individual interviewed in it – Rebbetzin Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of Rav Ovadiah Yosef – but also for the events that formed the background to that article. That week, Rav Ovadiah Yosef had mocked Yossi Sarid, a member of the Knesset from the anti-religious Meretz party, leading to an uproar in the Knesset and throughout the country. The following are a few excerpts of the interview with Rebbetzin Bar-Shalom:

How did your mother react to your father’s involvement in politics?

“My father always asked my mother for her opinion before everything he did. He always said that women are blessed with extra insight. But there was one thing he did without consulting her, without her approval: He founded the Shas party despite the fact that she didn’t agree to it. When Aryeh Deri came and asked my father to become actively involved in politics, my mother did not want to let him. ‘Why do you need this?’ she asked. ‘You have always been an admired and much-loved rov. There hasn’t been a single person who had anything bad to say about you. If you go into politics now, your reputation will become tarnished. There will be all sorts of mudslinging, and people will say terrible things and will bother you and your family.’ My father answered her, ‘Margalit, when I get to the World of Truth and stand before the Master of the Universe, He will say to me, ‘Ovadiah, what did you do for the Jewish people?’ What should I say to Him, Margalit? Should I tell Him that I wanted to maintain my public image?’”

Rebbetzin Bar-Shalom went on to make a very sharp statement: “But my mother was right. Abba suffered bitterly from politics. In 1992, when talk of peace accords with the Arabs first began, my father declared his support for Yitzchak Rabin’s political approach. A special friendship developed between Abba and Rabin. I remember that every day, dozens of right-wing activists would come to demonstrate against Abba’s support for the peace process, and Ima would beg them to stop hounding her. But they refused to listen to her pleas. Day and night, they pounded on our doors and windows. They spilled red paint in the stairwell, they set the door of our house on fire, and they surrounded a picture of Abba with black candles. For two full years, they made my mother’s life a nightmare. Yitzchak Rabin was killed by a bullet, but my mother was killed by those right-wing political activists.”


The Israeli media – and the American media as well – is biased. This is an established fact. Tell me the name of a newspaper, and I will tell you who it supports and, even more, who it is trying to destroy. Yediot Acharonot, for instance, has realized that it isn’t sufficient for them to fight Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, since every vote for Naftali Bennett is a vote for Netanyahu as well, so they have added Bennett to their list of enemies. In contrast, Yisrael Hayom, the newspaper owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, promotes Netanyahu more than Bennett, and mainly tries to prove that “the Zionist center” – a.k.a. “Buzi-Livni” or whatever else the term is for the alliance between Yitzchok (Buzi) Herzog and Tzipi Livni – is not a suitable alternative for the country’s leadership. As part of that agenda, Yisrael Hayom has become an opponent of Shas as well due to the possibility that the party might not support Netanyahu after the elections.

I must quote from the recent writings of Ron Adlist, a veteran sharp-eyed Israeli journalist. Under the headline “Why Did I Support a Corrupt Man?” he wrote, “Yosef Cohen, the editor of the local publication Kol Ha’ir, which was highly influential in its time, dug into the affairs of Ehud Olmert [when he served as mayor of Yerushalayim] and discovered that they were rotten to the core. Olmert ran the city with wildly right-wing policies, opening the Kosel tunnels and crushing the Palestinian populace. Together with Ron Mayberg, the editor of the Maariv supplement Sof Shavua at the time, I plotted to work to cut off the head of this serpent before it destroyed the entire country. As a freelance job for Maariv, I wrote a particularly biting profile. Olmert pulled a string or two, and as you can imagine, the article was pulled. Few people knew about his constant swindling, but he had a group of miscreants surrounding him, who stayed with him until the end. But none of that deterred me from supporting him for the post of prime minister, since he would have split the entire country, including Yerushalayim. When you need a thief, wouldn’t you save him from the gallows? The people of Israel had already made national deals with corrupt politicians such as Arik Sharon. If Olmert would make peace, the nation would swallow this rotten apple.”

Here you have a classic example of an Israeli journalist. When Olmert was a right-winger, the writer unabashedly declared, the newspaper was to be used to bring him down. But once he moved to the extreme left, a blind eye would be turned to his misdeeds. This is a “brave” and “objective” Israeli newspaper. Incidentally, Ron Mayberg has left the State of Israel and has been living in Maine for the past ten years.


Yahadut HaTorah consists of two parties, Agudas Yisroel and Degel HaTorah. The party is now hoping to increase its number of mandates from seven to eight. Some will dismiss this as the product of unfounded hopes and exaggerated expectations, but others will consider it the exact opposite: Based on the potential number of voters and the party’s natural growth, there is no reason that we shouldn’t secure an eighth mandate. On the contrary, it is unclear why the party hasn’t yet grown in keeping with its true strength.

The polls publicized at the end of every week in Israel indicate that Yahadut HaTorah has indeed been fluctuating between seven and eight mandates with each poll, and even though the polls are generally mistaken about the chareidi community, this statistic is probably correct. In general, their mistakes stem from the fact that the chareidi community is not exposed to the media through which the polls are conducted. The pollsters have already recognized this fact, and their predictions include additional votes for Yahadut HaTorah and Shas in order to take the expected discrepancy into account, but each election still shows that they have been mistaken. In any event, Yahadut HaTorah is now struggling to claim that eighth mandate. The professionals believe that it is less important for the party to target a new constituency and more important for it not to make mistakes in its election broadcasts and its advertising.

An unusual poll publicized two weeks ago focused on a statistic that is not generally examined: the degree of voters’ dissatisfaction with the party for which they voted in the previous elections. The party with the highest percentage of dissatisfied voters is Kadima, a political party that was once run by Ariel Sharon and led the government, and has now shrunk to two mandates. One of those mandates belongs to Shaul Mofaz, a former Minister of Defense, whom the Labor Party is now considering including as its “defense expert.” The party with the second largest percentage of dissatisfied voters is, of course, Yesh Atid, with the polls predicting that it will lose half of its power. There is definitely logic to that, since all its promises to the “middle class,” especially regarding the housing market, have been shown to be as worthless as a garlic peel.

Three other parties – Shas, Likud, and the Arab party Balad – have been shown to have disappointed about half of their voters. The remaining parties, in order of percentage, are: the Movement (Tzipi Livni’s party, which recently merged with Labor), Meretz (which has gone down in the polls), Labor (with 26 percent of its voters dissatisfied, meaning that almost three quarters are satisfied), Bayit Yehudi (21 percent dissatisfied), and Chadash (20 percent dissatisfied).

The party with the smallest percentage of disgruntled voters – meaning that it has the highest percentage of voters pleased with its performance – is Yahadut HaTorah. Only five percent of the voters declared that they were dissatisfied with the party after voting for it in the previous elections. Naturally, this seems to indicate that 95 percent of the voters are pleased. And that is eminently logical: The Knesset members of Yahadut HaTorah, or at least some of them, have been very active during the past two parliamentary years of the Nineteenth Knesset. In their roles in the opposition, they truly stood out. Let us hope that this stands them in good stead on Election Day.



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