Rav Aharon Leib opened the evening by reading a letter of Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv that advocates the necessity to vote: “Someone who holds back from voting is giving support to those who seek to destroy everything.”
“There is a fire in the house; one cannot say, ‘What has it to do with me,’ and remain complacent,” said Rav Aharon Leib. “If a bochur is not permitted to learn what will come out from him? What will happen to Klal Yisroel?”
“Jews are responsible for one another in both private and public affairs,” he added. “Elections are the time when we can achieve things and save the situation for the sake of the Torah world, save whatever we can for the sake of Klal Yisroel… This is the time! Whoever fails to vote transgresses the Torah command: Do not stand by the blood of your fellow.”
Rav Dovid Cohen said that the upcoming elections were a life and death situation.
“The war at present is for our lives,” he said. “We have no allies. Every party has its own interests but none knows the power of Torah.”
“The heart aches at the public indifference to the present elections,” he added. “This indifference may, chas vesholom, harm the strength of chareidi representation. We must remember that for us this is a sacred obligation and not an issue of interests or seats… Today, there are dangers unprecedented since the founding of Israel and perhaps even thousands of years. This is a war of life and death and we must win.”
MK Moshe Gafni spoke in a similar vein, saying that the times were unprecedented. He gave a roundup of the battles of this last couple of candidacies during which he and others prevented the government from passing laws relating to yeshiva student enlistment, national service for religious girls, recognition of the Reform movement, and in giving rabbis of the Zohar organization that is outside Israel’s rabbinate the authority to perform marriages.
“In future years people will ask what happened in 5773,” he said. “You knew there would be harsh decrees, you knew that a war was being waged against Torah study and practical Torah observance. ‘You knew,’ our grandchildren will ask us. ‘What did you do in 5773? It was in your hands. You could have stopped the process and prevented decrees.’”
On Monday, the seven candidates of United Torah Judaism attended the inauguration of the party’s election headquarters in Yerushalayim. MK Uri Maklev of Degel Hatorah emphasized the importance of gathering enough votes to have influence over the Prime Minister.
“Unlike other elections, this time it is clear who will be prime minister,” he said. “And Netanyahu has openly said, ‘Everything is open — nothing obligates me to decide who will be in his coalition. We cannot know what will happen. The decree within a decree here is that we do not know what decrees lie ahead. There is darkness.”
“Everyone knows that if we and our partners, Shas, have 20 mandates, he will need us,” he added. “He will have no choice. To the degree that we fall below that, fall the chances of his needing us… We must grow by thousands of more votes.”
Incidentally, it has been discovered during past elections that an unexpected number of UTJ votes derive from Israel’s Arab public. In the Arab town of Poraidis near Chaifa, for example, hundreds voted for UTJ during the last elections. Residents explain that they are more interested in social rights than politics. As members of a low socio-economic minority society, they think they have much in common with Torah Jews and are fighting for similar rights.
Meanwhile, the battle between Israel’s Torah communityand Kadima, Israel’s largest party, which is expected to be destroyed in the upcoming elections, continues. Two weeks ago, Kadima sought to bolster its voter support by displaying anti-chareidim posters that demanded: “Pay soldiers the same as avreichim.” The posters claimed that avreichim receive 3,400 shekels monthly, while soldiers must be satisfied with pocket money, a meager 352 shekels a month. But the poster fails to point out that the claim only applies to a limited number of avreichim who meet certain criteria, and included exemption from certain city rates. In an interview last Monday, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MK Yisroel Eichler called on the Knesset Elections Committee to ban the slogan because it might lead to violence.
Two major bus companies, Egged and Dan, had already refused to run the offensive advertisement unless the word avreichim was replaced by something more neutral. Kadima complained against the chareidi attitude to the Knesset Electoral Committee. Last Wednesday, the Dan bus company reversed its decision and will now display posters claiming that there is favoritism for chareidim.
NAFTALI BENET ON A WINNING STREAK
Two weeks ago, Naftali Bennet of the modern-Orthodox rightist Jewish Home party set off a furor when he declared that if he were a soldier, he would rather be jailed than obey an order from his superiors to forcibly evacuate Jews from their homes. Denouncement of his attitude by the combined Likud-Yisroel Beiteinu faction forced him to revise his statement, but he simultaneously challenged Netanyahu to declare whether or not he was contemplating another Jewish expulsion similar to the 2005 Gaza disengagement.
Surprisingly, the affair contributed to a meteoric rise in Bennet’s popularity. Polls indicate an increase in the number of Knesset seats his party is likely to win on January 22 from 11 to 15, while Likud-Yisroel Beiteinu dropped two seats from 37 to 35. It is even possible that Bennet’s party may end up becoming the second largest in Israel, surpassing the Labor party which the latest polls predict will win 16 seats. In recent weeks, Netanyahu’s faction has been steadily losing support in the polls at the rate of one Knesset seat per week, with Bennet’s party being the leading beneficiary, while Labor’s popularity is starting to fade. As that trend continues, Bennet is emerging as Israel’s newest rising political star.
The party now headed by Bennet is the successor of the National Religious Party founded in 1955. That party was once quite popular and had up to 12 seats until 1977, after which its Knesset representation fell to between four to six seats. Now, the re-united modern-Orthodox community it represents is making a political comeback after years of deep divisions. Modern-Orthodoxy is also represented in the Likud party by a number of religious MKs.
Bennet is popular not only because of his right wing political views but also as a symbol of successful entrepreneurism. Born in Haifa in 1972, he is the son of American parents who came to Israel after the Six Day War. After serving in the Israeli army’s prestigious Sayeret Matkal and Maglan units, he co-founded the Cyota anti-fraud software company in 1999, which was later sold in 2005 for $145 million. He also served as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff and as Director General of the Yesha (Yehuda and Shomron) Council from 2010 to 2012 representing the interests of Jews living throughout the West Bank. After leaving the Likud he was elected head of the Jewish Home party founded in 2008.
Bennet’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is pragmatic — there will be no solution to the conflict within our lifetimes, he argues, so Israel may as well make the best of a bad situation. As he argued on Sunday, would an Arab state in Yehuda and Shomron be any different than the Gaza state that has been a source of constant rocket attacks ever since Israel left in 2005?
Bennet’s plan is for Israel to annex almost two thirds of the West Bank; after all, Menachem Begin annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 despite warnings this would result in Israel becoming a leper state. The part of the West Bank he wants annexed comprises what is known as Area C, home to 350,000 Jews and 48,000 Arabs (at least according to his low estimate) and offer the Arabs living there Israeli citizenship.
“Forget whether it’s right or wrong; we’re here to stay, now what can we do about it?” he says. “To strive for perfection brings disaster again and again. It’s time for new thinking.”
As for what to do in the long term, he admits that he simply does not know.
The Israeli populace is much into Bennet’s way of thinking. A December poll of the Dahaf Institute made for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs indicated that 83% of Israel’s Jews believe that even a full retreat to the pre-1967 borders would satisfy neither the Palestinians nor other Arabs. Perhaps that is why the center-left parties cannot increase their overall poll numbers, consistently lagging at least 12 Knesset seats behind the right wing bloc.
In a recent interview, Bennet suggested that another reason for his popularity is the public’s growing disillusionment with secular Zionism. People need a reason to live in Israel beyond the rationale of national survival espoused by early leaders.
It is claimed that thanks to his ongoing fight against Netanyahu for rightist votes, Bennet is currently supported by various businessmen, lawyers, journalists and opposition members who are willing to help anyone take down Netanyahu a notch, but would rather not elect a leftist prime minister. Believers in this paradigm claim that the same people who provided Livni and Lapid with financial and media support in the recent past are channeling their resources to Bennet to achieve the same goal.
Likud-Beiteinu claims that it can hold its own against Bennet over the long haul.
“Bennett has been attacking the Likud for over a month now,” said national religious Likudnik MK Ze’ev Elkin. “Actually, he’s been doing so from the outset. The only difference is that the Likud has been responding to him for the last week. Bennett is complaining and decrying the fact that Likud is attacking him and splitting the right. He sounds like a Cossack who was robbed. Bennett’s attacks are a mistake because the religious Zionist camp has no interest in clashing with the Likud. The Likud went a long way to try to satisfy the religious Zionists, some of whom burrowed their way into the Likud, the party’s central committee, and the party membership.”
Elkin pointed out that 15 of the 17 council heads of Yehuda and Shomron, the places Bennet is claiming to defend, are members of the Likud.
“Would the local council chiefs from Judea and Samaria be Likud members if the party was intent on harming the settlement enterprise?” he asked.
As an example of this attitude, Beit El Council head Moshe Rosenbaum said that despite the difficulties of the past four years, “we put the hard things behind us, like the evacuation of Migron and Ulpana and we’re looking at the glass half-full. We are aware that the prime minister is under pressure from abroad and from home but we believe that he will do everything for the Jews of Judea and Samaria.”
“Binyomin Netanyahu is the only prime minister in the last 20 years who has not only refrained from evacuating a single settlement, but has also not even talked about doing so,” Elkin added.
As for Bennet’s rising popularity, Elkin claims it is a temporary fad.
Last Tuesday, Likud Beiteinu officially launched its election campaign at a posh convention attended by thousands of party activists. At the event, Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman reiterated their insistence that voting for their large coalition would increase government stability and lessen the need to worry about the demands of small, gadfly parties.
“I am asking one question,” Netanyahu said. “Who do they want to lead Israel? Who is the proper candidate to deal with the Iranian threat, as well as the missile and terror threats? Don’t waste your vote. Voting for smaller parties is a mistake that will weaken Israel. Vote for who you think is needed to lead Israel at this time. Don’t say ‘It is already clear who will be prime minister.’ Those who want to strengthen Israel and the prime minister should vote for Likud-Beiteinu.
As we reduced the price of cellphones, so we will reduce the price of housing,” he promised. “This requires one essential condition – I agreed with my friend Lieberman that we return the Housing Ministry to our hands.”
“The situation in which the burden of the service and the work is not evenly spread between citizens will not last,” he added.
In addition to these three major goals — lowering housing prices and moving the Housing and Construction Ministry out of Shas’s hands, legislating a fair military draft law, and creating a new system of government, Netanyahu promised that his party would “continue to live and build in Yerushalayim” and “continue to strengthen the settlements.”
Netanyahu boasted of his government’s achievements so far, including improvements in education, building a fence on the Egyptian border that has almost stopped the infiltration of Africans into Israel, the success of the Iron Dome system, and the release of Gilad Shalit from Hamas hands.
Prominently absent from Netanyahu’s speech was mention of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, an idea he famously endorsed in a speech at Bar Ilan University in 2009 where he spoke of “a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.” The two-state solution also does not appear on the Likud-Beiteinu election platform. But on Monday evening a media report claimed that Netanyahu has affirmed that he still stands behind the principles of the Bar Ilan speech.
“In the next term, he will uproot communities and no one will be able to say that he did not give advance notice,” a senior nationalist political source told Arutz Sheva in reaction to the report. “He has announced his intentions, and voting for him means giving the public’s stamp of approval to troubling diplomatic moves.”
At the convention, Yisroel Beiteinu head, Avigdor Lieberman, maintained that all was well on the diplomatic front.
“We have one disagreement with the world. That is on the matter of construction in Yerushalayim and the settlement blocs. Therefore we need a strong and united government that knows how to withstand pressure. The difference between us and the Left is that we want a built-up Yerushalayim and they want a divided Yerushalayim,” Lieberman said.
“I hear a lot of preaching that Israel is isolated and needs to find a way to talk with [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas. I want to say to the enlightened Left: You were there. You offered Abbas to divide Yerushalayim and return to the 1967 borders. What did he say to you? Nyet, no! Is this a partner?”
Recently revealed agreements between Netanyahu and Lieberman indicate that Yisroel Beiteinu will take both the Housing and Internal Affairs ministries after the elections. Shas will apparently be compensated for the loss of these two ministries by having current Housing Minister Ariel Atias appointed as Minister of Tourism and Interior Minister Eli Yishai as Minister of Infrastructure.
Shas is understandably not very happy to lose control of the important ministries it has controlled during the past few years and which have served as the source of much of its political influence. In reaction to Netanyahu’s statement that the Housing Ministry “will not remain in sectoral hands,” Shas pleaded guilty to his accusation, saying that it has concentrated on helping the impoverished and underprivileged people who comprise a large proportion of the Israeli electorate.
“Shas does have a sector,” the party said in a statement. “This sector has no [distinguishing] headgear, religion, or gender. It comprises all those people who are have-nots. The Netanyahu of 2013 wants to once again become the Netanyahu of 2003, who issued decrees and welfare cuts. A strong Likud means an aggressive Likud that ignores all those have nots. For anyone who was in doubt, once Likud united with Lieberman it ceased to be our home – Shas is our true home. Only a strong Shas can stop Netanyahu from harming the weak and ensure that their voice is heard.”
This week, Shas leader Aryeh Deri said that there are five unemployed Sephardim in Israel for every one unemployed Ashkenazi, and that the Sephardim have three times more poor. By contrast, only 9% of Israel’s academics are Sephardim, and only 3% of its professors are Sephardim.
“There are two states in Israel today,” he said. “One of haves and one of have-nots.”
In a recent interview, UTJ candidate Meir Porush attacked Netanyahu’s cavalier attitude towards his coalition partners.
“First and foremost, this proves that he is not a mentch, he has no gratitude, and he has no feelings,” said Porush. “
There is a serious danger that Netanyahu may not need any frum parties to form his government.
“Netanyahu would prefer a government without chareidim if this was possible even though experience shows that this is impractical and a government crumbles after a short time,” he said. “However, if we do not get enough electoral support, we will find ourselves once again outside the government. In 2003, Sharon preferred making a government with the leftist Shinui party, instead of with UTJ because they had two more Knesset members than we had.”
In addition to a re-distribution of ministries, the Yisroel Beiteinu Likud campaign agreement also calls for legalizing the marriages of 300,000 Russian immigrants whose Judaism is in serious doubt, and a pledge to fashion a new military draft law for yeshiva students.
LIEBERMAN’S INDICTMENT UPDATED
On a personal level, Lieberman is now in deeper legal trouble. Two weeks ago prosecutors issued a preliminary indictment of Lieberman for his alleged efforts to help Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh become ambassador of Latvia in return for Ben-Aryeh giving him access to restricted documents. On Sunday, Lieberman was served with a revised and strengthened indictment in the Yerushalayim Magistrate Court accusing him of fraud and breach of trust, after police questioned additional witnesses against him. This includes Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon who served under Lieberman at the time of the Ben-Aryeh episode. According to the new indictment, Lieberman’s assistance to Ben-Aryeh is now described as active rather than passive. It is now alleged that Lieberman discussed the new ambassadorship with Ben Aryeh and said that he would support him.
The indictment also now includes Ayalon’s new claim that in his capacity as head of the appointing committee, Lieberman summoned him and suggested appointing Ben-Aryeh to the ambassadorship of Latvia because he was most qualified.
The indictment states, “Ayalon and Ben Aryeh were not close, but based on the defendant’s words, and the documents that were presented to the appointments committee, he made efforts to have Ben Aryeh selected. Lieberman did not tell the members of the committee, including Ayalon, about the incident with Ben Aryeh.”
Despite Ayalon’s new testimony, the case against Lieberman is by no means open and shut. Lieberman vehemently denies Ayalon’s version of the story, and Ayalon has given different versions of what happened in the past. For example, he once claimed that he did not recall Lieberman influencing Ben-Aryeh’s appointment at all. Because of the strengthened indictment, the case is now likely to drag out longer, destroying Lieberman’s hopes for a quick resolution of the issue. There is also now a greater chance of Lieberman being found guilty of moral turpitude and jailed, which could bar him from holding political office for seven years following the end of his jail sentence.
HIGH COURT REVERSES ARAB MK DISQUALIFICATION
Last Thursday, a special nine person panel of Israel’s High Court began reviewing the Knesset Elections Committee decision to disqualify Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly) from the elections due to her sympathy with terrorist groups and her presence on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship when activists on board who were smuggling supplies into Gaza and attacked Israeli soldiers. Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had already advised that there was insufficient evidence to oust her from the Knesset. Outside the courtroom, supporting and opposing protesters demonstrated noisily. A shouting match between MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) and MK Jamal Zahalka (National Democratic Assembly) threatened to develop into physical fight until the two were separated by security guards. A petition to ban Zoabi from the Knesset had collected 11,000 signatures.
On Sunday, as expected, the High Court unanimously overturned Zoabi’s disqualification. No Arab or Arab party has ever been disqualified by this august court. Declaring that she was not sorry for her actions on the Marmara, Zoabi said that she expected such a decision.
“It looks like there was just no legal basis to justify my disqualification,” she said. “I was subject to ridiculous political persecution [and] the High Court made the right and proper decision.”
Likud-Yisroel Beiteinu vowed to amend the law in order to prevent the High Court from continuing to torpedo efforts to disqualify Arab radicals and their parties from serving in the Knesset,
“The High Court’s decision is unfortunate,” the party said in a statement. “The court’s interpretation of the law makes it incumbent upon us to amend the law so that it stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that any show of support for terrorism would render a candidate ineligible to run for the Knesset. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu will immediately start working on an amendment once the new Knesset convenes.”
Israel’s courts proved once again that Israel is determined to preserve its democracy to the point of self-destruction.