At 10:05 p.m., the decision was sealed. Ninety-three members of the Knesset, including the prime minister, voted in support of the proposed bill to dissolve the Knesset. The text of the bill consists of a single line: “It is proposed that the elections for the Twentieth Knesset be held on March 17, 2015.”
This was a turn of events that was long expected to come. Journalists and Knesset members alike joked that the Knesset had convened for the sole purpose of deciding to dissolve itself. Until Monday morning, some people still enjoyed imagining that a new coalition would be assembled instead, but as soon as the leaders of the Shas and Yahadut HaTorah parties announced that they would agree to nothing other than new elections, and after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed the same sentiment, it was clear that there was no option other than to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections. It is likewise clear that many of the members of the Knesset are pained by the situation, since they know that they will not be able to reclaim their positions once the elections have taken place. Statistics have shown that about 40 Knesset members, one third of the 120 that comprise the legislative body, are not reelected.
In the Yesh Atid party, for instance, it is clear that about half of its 19 members will not occupy seats in the next Knesset. The polls indicate that at least half of the party’s Knesset mandates will be wiped out, if not more. And that is exactly what happened to Lapid’s father with his Shinui party. There are also some Knesset members who will be replaced, not because their party’s representation will shrink, but rather because they will be defeated in the primaries.
In any event, we are on our way to the elections. In just a few days, the members of the Knesset will be asked to leave their offices. This is the standard procedure before every election; its purpose is to prevent any legislator from feeling that he has some sort of established claim to his office, and, even more than that, to mitigate the embarrassment of those who are not reelected. I can still remember the sight of Tommy (Yosef) Lapid’s belongings strewn about in the corridor, after he refused to heed the order to empty out his office.
THE KNESSET SPEAKER GREETS THE GUESTS
With hundreds of political activists, journalists, and other individuals crowding the Knesset building, a Shuvu delegation somehow found themselves arriving at the Knesset this Monday, of all days. Their visit had actually been scheduled three weeks earlier, without any connection to the various political events that were to unfold; certainly, the organizers of this visit were not blessed with the prescience to know what the days before it were to bring. According to the original plan, they were to have been hosted on their visit by the Knesset Speaker himself, “Yuli” Yoel Edelstein. Only this past Wednesday, when the bill to dissolve the Knesset passed its first reading, did Edelstein realize that he might not be able to commit to meeting with the delegation on Monday, and he notified them that he might not be able to address them as planned.
A few other members of the Knesset agreed to serve as the official hosts in Edelstein’s place. According to the rules of the Knesset, a delegation must have a member of the parliament as its host in order to receive the privileges that were extended to the visitors — such as, for instance, the use of the room where the Knesset Legislative Committee meets. Aryeh Deri, the chairman of the Shas party, ultimately received the honor of hosting the group.
At 4:00, a bus from Bnei Brak pulled up at the entrance to the Knesset building; this alone was a special gesture to the visiting group. About sixty men, members of Shuvu from the United States and South Africa, disembarked. The visitors included young and old men, wealthy businessmen and prominent activists in various communities in America, as well as a number of the members of Shuvu’s administration in the United States and, of course, representatives of its office in Eretz Yisrael. They crossed the road and entered the building, bypassing the hundreds of other visitors and invited guests waiting to enter. Knowing that this was to be a special day in the Knesset, hundreds of Israeli citizens had come to see the government in action. It isn’t every day that the Knesset dissolves itself.
The guests hurried to daven minchah in the shul in the Knesset building, passing through the third floor, in the area between the legislators’ cafeteria and the Knesset plenum. After minchah, they were treated to some light refreshments and then ushered into the Knesset plenum, in order to experience the debates in real time.
A side door was opened for them, with the special approval of the Knesset speaker, and they entered the VIP gallery, with the staff cautioning them to turn off their cell phones. Once they were seated, they were surprised to hear MK Ruth Calderon of Yesh Atid, the deputy Knesset Speaker, welcoming them from the podium. “I would like to greet the young businessmen from the United States, who have come on a visit as guests of the Shuvu network,” she announced in Hebrew. Then she added in English, “Welcome to the Shuvu delegation. Thank you for coming to support us, and welcome everyone else. Thank you.”
The guests from Shuvu in the gallery clapped loudly, unaware that applause is not accepted in the Knesset — especially not from the VIP gallery, which is very close to the seats of the heads of the Knesset.
MK Yisroel Eichler, who then took the podium, added a greeting of his own. “Honored Speaker, honored members of the Knesset, and honored guests,” he began, “I would also like to greet the people of Shuvu, who have come to visit us here on such a momentous day. Shuvu is an organization that is heavily involved in education and in outreach to children from all circles. As we are heading toward elections, this is the time to see to it that the entire Jewish nation is drawn close to the Torah. May you have much success.” Once again, they applauded.
MILLIONS OF SHEKELS STOLEN FROM THE CHAREIDIM
From the plenum, the visitors moved on to the chamber of the Knesset Legislative Committee. The members of the delegation seated themselves around the large table, and MK Moshe Gafni arrived to greet them. He gave them a brief overview of the current political events, and he went on to lavish praise on the Shuvu organization for its contributions to Yiddishkeit in Eretz Yisroel. Gafni has been doing everything in his power to help Shuvu obtain the buildings it needs and to shield the organization from being harmed by the government’s budget cuts.
After Gafni, the group was addressed by Meshullam Nahari, who previously served as the Deputy Minister of Education and the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, and who has aided Shuvu in those capacities. While he was speaking, Aryeh Deri arrived and was given the floor. With Rabbi Yosef Hoch, of Shuvu in America, and Rav Chaim Michoel Gutterman, the director of the organization in Eretz Yisroel, at his side, he laid out the political map. The following are the main points of his speech:
“We must give thanks to the Creator of the universe. We have been going through a very difficult period in every area. The government and the coalition, to my great chagrin, have attacked every matter related to Judaism. You must understand that the Torah world has been threatened not only by the draft law and the economic sanctions imposed on anyone who does not enlist for army service — which is a very grave issue and a great chillul Hashem — but also by the government’s economic decrees, which have been no less damaging. As the Mishnah states, if there is no flour, there is no Torah. I am aware of kollelim, mainly in more distant locations, that have lost almost half of their avreichim, who were forced to leave kollel in order to support their families. These were good avreichim, who had learned well and planned to learn more, and who were forced to leave kollel for other pursuits due to a lack of parnossah. It was a very difficult nisayon for them.
“By law, this government should have remained in power for another three years. I doubt that our community would have been able to survive all the edicts that they planned to continue raining down on us. Hashem has performed a miracle for us. It is most unnatural for a prime minister with a coalition to decide in the middle of the term to dissolve it. It has never happened before, and it was not supposed to happen.
“We have now entered an election period. There is much difficult work ahead of us, but it is clear that the chareidim will be part of the government in the next coalition. I do not wish to predict what the coalition will be, since I do not even know the answer to that question, but I have no doubt that there will be a coalition and that the chareidim will be a part of it. And there is no question that we will have much damage to repair. The lengths to which this government went in their desire to harm us are beyond belief. There are no financial benefits that they did not cut. There is a stipend called havtachat hachnasah, guaranteed income. It is received by the most impoverished sector of society. On January 1, 11,000 families are supposed to stop receiving it. In order to qualify for this stipend, an avreich must have three or more children, a wife who is not employed, and no car. These are families of bnei Torah who live at the height of simplicity. The stipend is a mere 1100 shekels per month. It is a pittance, but they wanted to stop even this small amount from being distributed. Altogether, it is a theft of over 150 million shekels from bnei Torah. I hope that we will be able to restore the stipend, although I am not certain of it. Six hundred million shekels were also cut from the budgetary allocations to the yeshivos, and tens of millions of shekels were taken away from the seminaries. Hundreds of millions of shekels that were earmarked in the budget for Chinuch Atzmai, for Shas’s educational network, and for Shuvu were erased!
“And then, of course, there are the anti-religious laws, such as the conversion law, which represents a significant danger to the Jewish character of the State of Israel. According to this law, Gentiles would be registered as Jews! And there are other antireligious laws that have not yet made it through the legislative process.
“In just two hours, the Knesset will approve a law that calls for new elections to be held on the 26th of Adar. This is a very important event; it will teach everyone that anyone who builds a government without the chareidim will not succeed. Everyone has learned this lesson now, and I hope that it is a mistake that will not be repeated, and that we will never again see the chareidi community barred from the government of the Jewish state. Today, everyone understands that in order for there to be a stable government, the chareidim must be included.”
EDUCATION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
Aryeh Deri’s audience listened in rapt attention as he spoke about the unity that now exists between the chareidi members of the Knesset. That unity, he asserted, was the reason for their recent success in the Knesset. He then added, “I hope that the elections will not create divisions among us, and I hope that the chareidi parties will increase their strength in these elections.”
Deri concluded his address with a few words of praise for Shuvu. “The subject of education is at the top of our list of priorities. Naturally, that includes kiruv, which is the cause that Shuvu works to advance in the State of Israel, and which amounts to actually saving Jewish lives. In my view, the Shuvu school network must receive even more support than our Torah schools, since an avreich will send his child to receive a Torah education at any cost, even if it means taking the food out of his own mouth, but irreligious families would not send their children to Shuvu if the schools did not offer the best conditions and academics. It is an established fact that the students of Shuvu’s schools come in at first place every year in the national competitions in subjects such as mathematics, and in order to continue providing them with conditions that are conducive for this, we must give them funding. For that reason, the help that you, the supporters of Shuvu, provide to the network is truly critical. You are helping Shuvu develop, and I hope that we, too, will be able to continue helping them. Shuvu is involved in holy work, and as we just heard from Rav Gutterman, a man who makes countless sacrifices for the sake of the students and teachers of Shuvu, you are now providing your services to the many Jewish immigrants from France. There are already 1000 olim from France — and from Europe in general — due to the drastic increase in anti-Semitism there, and these families, which are dati or Conservative, will not send their children to yeshivos and similar institutions. They require special scholastic frameworks with a high level of academics, and that is exactly what Shuvu provides for them. The more of these students you absorb, the more Jewish lives will be saved, for if this community sends their children to secular schools, then they will be lost.”
A YESH ATID MEMBER WEARS TEFILLIN
One of the Knesset members who came to greet the delegation from Shuvu was MK Yoel Razvozov — a member of Yesh Atid, the party of Yair Lapid. “I have been helping Shuvu recently,” he revealed. And it is true: He has been quietly helping the network. Recently, he has worked to increase Shuvu’s portion of the national budget, although the approval of that budget will now be postponed until the inauguration of the next government.
Razvozov had another surprising announcement to make. “I have recently begun wearing tefillin,” he declared. “I have a rov, and I consult with him.” The Israelis in the room sat in shocked disbelief. Razvozov, the chairman of the Knesset Committee on Immigration and Absorption, went on, “There are many immigrants here in the State of Israel who were educated as atheists in the Diaspora, but who have been fortunate enough to rediscover their roots here in Israel. The Shuvu network plays a large role in this. I feel that the Shuvu schools are doing this in the right way. There are many children in Shuvu who received the same education I did, and who know nothing, and in Shuvu they are being taught about Jewish tradition. That is the most important thing for the State of Israel, and that is why I support Shuvu. I want you to know that you are doing very important work. I hope,” he concluded, “that I will be a member of the next Knesset, and that I will be able to continue assisting you.”