Stalemate Again

Following the rough-and-tumble of a second Israeli election in the span of six months, the results of the do-over were almost the same as the first time around, with no candidates or blocks achieving a majority necessary to form a coalition government. Thankfully, the left did not achieve a wide enough victory to be able to form a government. The chareidi parties held on to their previous gains, but Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu did not receive enough seats to form a government just with his natural allies. For him to stay in power will take some doing.

Exit polls indicated approximately 33 seats for Kachol Lavan, 32 for Likud, 12 for Arabs Joint List, 9 for Yisroel Beiteinu led by Avigdor Lieberman, 9 for Shas, 8 for UTJ, 7 for Yamina, 5 for Democratic Union, and 5 for Labor Party. The Otzma Yehudit right party burned through vital votes and did not get enough to enter the Knesset.

Some 69.4% of eligible voters, numbering 4,440,141 voters, went to the polls. According to the results as reflected by exit polls, Prime Minster Netanyahu did not have enough support to form another right-wing religious coalition. In order to remain in power, he would need to peel away Benny Gantz from his partner in the Kachol Lavan party, the arch-enemy of the religious community, Yair Lapid.

In the days leading up to the election, Rav Chaim Kanievsky participated in rallies in such places as Tel Aviv and Afulah. He was present at a giant street rally in Yerushalayim, where he was joined by many other gedolim and rebbes.

Shas and UTJ held special tefillos at the Kosel headed by gedolei hador, Moetzes members, rabbonim and mekubolim.

There was a general feeling of dread in the air that UTJ wouldn’t have as many votes as last time, nor would Shas, and that the parties of the right would not deliver the goods to allow Netanyahu to cobble together a favorable coalition with them and Likud so that he could remain as prime minister.

Clips of Rav Chaim Kanievsky telling people to vote were the rage, as were campaign videos expertly produced.

Despite his advanced years, weakness and the priceless nature of every second of his Torah study, particularly during Elul, Rav Chaim Kanievsky traveled tirelessly to election rallies across Israel and urged the crowds to save the Jewish identity of Eretz Yisroel by not wasting even one vote.

“When my father closes the Gemara, it’s a sign that the world is in turmoil and it obligates us all,” said his son, Rav Avrohom Yeshayohu.

Under the slogan Lezakos Badin, a series of UTJ rallies was launched at an emergency meeting in the Lederman shul next to Rav Chaim’s home.

Election posters urged the voting public to “Be written in the seforim of the tzaddikim” by casting a vote for UTJ.

“It is certainly true that bochurim must be careful not to leave their learning or to desert the sanctity of Elul,” Rav Chaim stated, “yet it also certain that whoever refrains from voting for Gimmel is voting for those who would desecrate Shabbos, the Torah and kavod Shomayim, and abets deliberate transgressors. No one disagrees to this.”

Rav Gershon Edelstein spoke similarly of “the great danger that lies ahead, of incitement against the chareidi public, against yeshiva bochurim and yungeleit who study Torah, and against everything that’s holy,” saying that the secular public wants “public chillul Shabbos and decrees against chinuch, kashrus and geirus.

“Woe betide if these provocateurs get control of the government and implement their harsh decrees,” he warned.

Rav Chaim began his cross-country marathon by attending a rally in the Negev kehillah of Ofakim headed by Rav Yisroel Yaakov Pinkus, son of Rav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus. Tens of thousands poured in from local towns, including Dimona, Be’er Sheva, Netivot, Yerucham, Ashkelon, Tifrach and Kiryat Malachi.

The rally was moderated by Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, director of Chinuch Atzmai and Lev L’Achim. To emphasize the area’s potential, Rav Sorotzkin introduced three teenagers studying at secular schools who have been affected by Lev L’Achim. The trio amazed Rav Chaim and the audience by making a siyum on Maseches Taanis.

Moshe Gafni warned the crowd that for the first time, the High Court is interfering not only with the chareidi world’s intersection with the general public, but also in its internal affairs, attempting to dictate what degree of gender separation is permitted at chareidi events and what is not.

Rav Chaim also traveled to election rallies in the northern towns of Rechasim and Afula, the latter the site of a recent gender-separate concert outlawed by the Supreme Court.

“Afula showed the whole world how we live with no compromises or gimmicks,” MK Uri Maklev proclaimed at the rally. “Their purpose was much more than interfering with a show here or there. What they really want is to stop gender separation in our shuls and schools.”

Visiting Tel Aviv for the first time in his life, Rav Chaim attended a rally there.

First to address the crowd was Rav Chaim Horowitz of the Tzahala neighborhood, who spoke of the anti-chareidi atmosphere permeating the city, recalling, “Last Friday, I entered Tel Aviv and was greeted by two giant billboards, one on the right announcing, ‘A united secular leadership,’ and another on the left declaring, ‘No to a halacha state.’”

Recalling that Yair Lapid once told him, “Bnei Brak may be yours, but Tel Aviv belongs to us,” Gafni declared, “We hereby declare, Tel Aviv is ours and not yours. We in Tel Aviv follow the light of Rav Chaim Kanievsky and the gedolei Torah… Over the past week, we were in the north and south. We are now here in Tel Aviv and we will be present everywhere as a part of the Israeli people!”

A massive Degel Hatorah-Agudas Yisroel rally was held in Yerushalayim on the streets of the Sanhedria neighborhood for blocks around the Bar Ilan/Shmuel Hanovi Street intersection. Giant screens and loudspeakers broadcast the words of the Moetzes members and roshei yeshiva on the stage of honor.

Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin opened the event by speaking of discrimination against chareidim in special education and plots to prevent chareidim from establishing neighborhoods in places like Tiveriah and Afula, where their numbers are increasing.

“Here, myriads of us are daveningAvinu Malkeinu, overturn the plots of our enemies, foes and accusers.’ What is the struggle for this time? For kavod Shomayim, for our right to be chareidim and keep mitzvos, for a life of Torah and emunah. What interests us is not right or left, not Netanyahu or Gantz, nor diplomatic or economic issues. There is only item on the country’s agenda – who will succeed in setting up a government without chareidim.”

Two keynote speakers at the event were Moetzes members Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi and the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak, Rav Yisroel Hager. Noting that the elections were taking place on the 17th of Elul, the day the Nazis invaded Poland before the Holocaust, the rebbe called on the crowd to battle against the attempt at spiritual destruction he said was underway.

Following the rally, Rav Chaim went to the Kosel to recite Tehillim and concluded with a special tefillah: “May the prime minister who is closest to religion be selected in order that we can continue to preserve and broaden the Torah world, guard the kedoshei Yisroel, and increase kavod Shomayim in Eretz Yisroel and the world.”

As night fell on the day before the election, thousands joined Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein at Bnei Brak’s cemetery for a concluding rally of tefillah.

Degel Hatorah had meanwhile organized the recital of Tehillim at kivrei tzaddikim and called on Talmudei Torah, schools and seminaries to recite five perokim of Tehillim at midday on the day before the election. Yeshiva bochurim and yungeleit were asked to strengthen themselves in all spiritual matters and particularly in Torah study.

Setting a personal example, many gedolei hador voted early on Election Day.

On Tuesday morning, at 7 a.m., 6.4 million election-weary Israelis began streaming to 11,000 polling stations to determine their country’s future. What would the future hold – a left-wing, anti-religious government led by Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman with Arab support, a right-wing government aligned with chareidi and religious parties, or a unity government bereft of chareidim as happened under the horrific Lapid government of 2013?

Many Torah Jews rushed to vote immediately after Shacharis.

Prominent among early voters was Rav Shalom Cohen, president of the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah of Shas, who wept as he voted, crying out, “Ribbono Shel Olam! Shas is storming [to get every vote], as it says, ‘The storm wind does Your will.’ All of Shas is doing Your will.”

Former Rishon Letzion Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron left his Bayit Vegan home in a wheelchair to vote, instructing his family and talmidim to quickly do the same, and then went to the Kosel to daven for the supporters of Shas. He concluded with a tefillah for those who support Shas, saying, “Certainly, whoever is involved in divine matters will be saved from all tribulations and have his prayers accepted.”

By 10 a.m., the voting percentage across the country was the highest it ever was since 1984, prompting MKs Aryeh Deri and Uri Maklev to warn that the hatred sown in the past few months by Lieberman and Lapid and more recently by Benny Gantz was bearing fruit. They begged every member of the chareidi public to go out and vote.

Claiming that the Arab turnout was also the highest since 1984, Netanyahu urged supporters to not delay and to get out and vote. But by 4 p.m., the voting percentage had simmered down to the 36.6 percent, almost identical to the rate in April.

Once all comers selected their choice from among 29 parties, the $70,000 question would become clearer: Was Netanyahu to emerge with 61 seats plus and set up a right-wing bloc without the input of Avigdor Lieberman, or would Israel be plunged into a third election within a few months?

Almost at the crack of dawn, President Reuven Rivlin hurriedly assured voters that he would do “everything possible to get an elected government in Israel as soon as possible and avoid another election campaign.”

Netanyahu went to Machneh Yehudah and warned that the election would be “very close.” Voters should therefore not “waste votes” on the Otzma Yehudit party, which was hovering at the electoral threshold, nor give them to parties that could pass easily, such as Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina faction.

“Anyone waking up right now and saying, ‘We’ll go to the beach,’ go to the beach after you vote,” Netanyahu exhorted. “Bring your neighbors, vote Likud. Otherwise, you’ll get Gantz and Lapid as prime ministers.”

Anxious to squeeze out every possible vote, Netanyahu even produced a video aimed at Chabad in which he pleaded, “My friends, I will never forget the conversations I had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He told me to guard Eretz Yisroel, and now we are fighting for the land in a close match, I against Lapid and Gantz… Don’t waste your vote on any other party.”

Bibi stood in the middle of the bustling shuk, famous as a Likud bastion, and told shoppers and shopkeepers to leave the market and go vote.

The tension was evident in the voice of MK Aryeh Deri as he was interviewed on Radio Kol Chai three hours before the closing of the polls.

The Central Elections Committee and police were beleaguered with complaints from morning to night.

Even the traditional visit of party leaders to the Kosel on the evening prior to the election had its complications. Netanyahu’s visit went off without a hitch, Gantz’s less so when a 13-year-old chareidi resident of the Old City filed a police complaint against him, claiming he had pinched him.

In his words, “I saw Gantz at the exit and said to him, ‘Have you become religious?’ He drew near, pinched me on my shoulder in the area one pinches a person who has lost consciousness, and said to me, ‘What did you say?’ I asked him to let go. It hurt.”

That same evening, Gantz was ordered to halt a campaign conference in the southern farm community where he was raised after the Likud complained that it was violating a 7 p.m. deadline for all campaign events.

Gantz was taunted during his photo-op at the Kosel by chants of “Bibi, Bibi.”

The Labor party demanded the inspection of all voting booths in Bnei Brak and the disqualification of three of them after allegedly discovering that three chareidim with forged certification had presented themselves as monitors of the Labor party.

An Arab resident of Kafr Qasem was detained after he attempted to pose as an election commission official and vote under a different name.

In a voting station in Herzliya, Shas complained that a monitor was refusing to allow religious women to vote, claiming that they looked different than their ID photos. She also claimed that one of her fellow monitors was unidentifiable for the same reason.

At other stations, UTJ activists complained that anti-religious monitors were asking chareidim unnecessary questions and making it harder for them to vote. According to law, a monitor has the right to ask for a voter’s ID and nothing more.

Labor-Gesher activists in Be’er Sheva said that their ballot slips in two polling stations had been substituted with invalid slips from the April election that were labeled as Labor, not Labor-Gesher.

The Central Elections Committee shot down a plan of the left-wing Zazim social rights organization to bus 15,000 to voting booths during the election after Likud complained that since the group is heavily funded by the US-based New Israel Fund, its participation in the elections would be a violation of the V15 law passed in 2017 to stop foreign funded NGOs from interfering in Israel’s elections.

The Central Election Committee also struck down an attempt of the three mostly secular towns Tel Aviv to encourage people to vote with promises of cheap beer, city tours and free entry to cultural sites and pools.

Prohibited from having its activists bring cameras inside Palestinian voting stations, Likud reportedly posted dozens of face-recognition cameras outside a number of them, apparently to monitor how many Arabs were going out to vote. Voting was interrupted until they were hurriedly removed. Yisroel Beiteinu claimed that Likud activists were videoing outside voting booths in Ohr Akiva near Haifa and attempting to substitute ballot slips with fake substitutes in Ashdod.

Five polling stations at the Druze of Yarka in northern Israel were shut down for hours due to fraud and violence.

A message posted by Benny Gantz triggered a storm of protest that forced him to apologize after it was viewed by tens of thousands of followers.

In the 2015 elections, Netanyahu roused a hornets’ nest by warning, “The Arab voters are coming in huge numbers to voting stations. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in busses.” This was altered in press reports to a more insulting, “The Arab voters are coming in droves to voting stations.”

Now, in similar vein, Gantz posted a graphic stating, “Bnei Brak: 77 percent voting rate, Tel Aviv: 63 percent voting rate,” with a warning, “Whoever wants a united secular government must go out and vote.”

Amit Halivi, who held the 36th slot on the Likud ticket in May and claimed that chareidi election fraud won UTJ an eighth seat at the cost of Likud’s 36th seat, repeated his accusation now, writing, “The UTJ slogan is correct: ‘Every vote counts!’ I only hope that this time they succeed without forgery and without getting an extra mandate through fraud.”

Journalist Meirav Arlozorov pulled out all the stops, writing in The Marker, “Netanyahu has attempted to pull the election campaign towards issues like the Iranian threat, the Gaza threat, or the defense pact with the USA, but all these threats are nullified in 60 to the chareidi threat… Its birthrate is sky high – seven children on average per women, the highest rate in the world including Africa, which is eroding the basis of quality human capital in Israel.”

UTJ fought back, publicizing videos in response to the attacks. In one, a narrator noted that according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, chareidim have a 40% volunteer rate – over double the rate of the general population and translating into three-million annual hours of giving that save the taxpayer billions of shekels.

The narrator mentioned Ezer Mizion’s bone marrow bank, part of a national effort that has saved the lives of 2,000 people, in addition to Yad Sarah, United Hatzalah, Zichron Menachem, and the Yedidim on the Roads organization that helps stranded drivers, besides noting that the “extortion” of the chareidim doesn’t even reach a half-percent of the state budget.

In one video to a backdrop of Ethiopian, leftist and right-wing demonstrations, a voice says that as they demonstrate when it hurts, so chareidim who are accused of every wrongdoing “will demonstrate at the voting stations. Wanting an end to denigration, they vote for victory.”

MK Aryeh Deri complained that President Reuven Rivlin was not condemning the incitement, writing, “If people speak against Arabs, the president is the first one to come out against it. But when they incite against all of Judaism and traditional people in the state of Israel, no one protests against this. All this is done to topple Netanyahu. Everything is permissible to take over the government.”

Rivlin responded on Twitter, “My friend Rav Aryeh, anyone who knows me, like you, knows very well how much I’m pained by the disqualification of communities in Israel, among them the chareidi community, and the harsh discourse we’ve been dragged into during these elections.”

He recalled that David Ben-Gurion had used similar tactics to delegitimize Menachem Begin’s Cherut party.

After ignoring Avigdor Lieberman’s incitement for weeks, chareidi elements published a color magazine exposing his hypocrisy with the heading, “A special edition in honor of Avigdor Lieberman, who has been a friend of the Torah world and the yeshivos for over 30 years.”

Photos inside show him meeting with gedolim, including Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Shalom Cohen, and attending the simchos of chareidi politicians.

There were signs that Blue and White might bend. No. 3 in Blue and White’s leadership Moshe Ya’alon said at a convention of the Israel Democracy Center, “We are ready to include any body, including the chareidi and right-wing parties,” but qualified that it is “so long as they accept the baselines of the [new] government.”

Addressing young chareidim, MK Chili Tropper of Blue and White also spoke conciliatorily, saying that the Supreme Court’s draft law was not a proper solution and that chareidim should not be enlisted forcibly, certainly when the army in any case does not need so many soldiers.

At a special meeting of the Agudas Yisroel Moetzes, it was announced that “in view of the difficult spiritual and material situation in Eretz Yisroel, where those who hate us have raised their heads, religious persecutors against Judaism from within and our enemies who hate Israel from without,” the tzibbur should recite Tehillim kapittel 121 daily after Shacharis.

Belz promised that whoever voted on Election Day would be mentioned in a special tefillah at the kever of Rav Aharon of Belz.

At a Shas Selichos rally at the Kosel attended by 50,000, Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah leader Rav Shalom Cohen burst into tears and said, “To make the country secular, that’s what they want to do. No Shabbos, no kashrus, nothing. This is a denigration of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. What crazy country has a high court and fools like these?”

Hakadosh Boruch Hu made this election in Elul, when the world awakens for mercy and forgiveness,” he continued. “Hashem is waiting for us to inspire everyone in the streets. He created the Sefardim with a warm heart. You can warm them and add more and more votes so that the chareidi representatives multiply three or fourfold.”

He declared the Shabbos before the election as a special day of Tehillim and tefillah for Hashem’s mercy in the coming week.

Gedolim and rebbes of UTJ instructed Israelis overseas to return to vote if possible and certainly avoid being outside Israel on Election Day.

Rav Yonasan Bornstein, general director of the United Gerrer Institutions, was about to fly to the US for the benefit of the organization and had already bought a ticket when the rebbe instructed him to cancel his flight and remain in Israel.

On the morning of the election, the rebbe received no visitors so that every follower would vote and persuade others to do the same.

As the exit polls came in following the closing of the polls, party heads were quick to find microphones to project their messages. Avigdor Lieberman was first, insisting on a secular unity government consisting of his party, Kachol Lavan and Likud.

Netanyahu was on the phone promising Aryeh Deri, Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman that he would stick with them, come what may. The calls were welcome, though nobody knew whether, if it came to being in power with the chareidim or in the opposition, he would inevitably look out for himself.

UTJ MK Eichler voiced interest in Netanyahu forming a government with the religious parties and Benny Gantz, and Labor but without Lapid. Time will tell how the coalition puzzle is solved. As the votes come in, things will swing back and forth and various politicians will try different arrangements under which the government should be formed.

Aryeh Deri, who was a big winner, as his party gained seats in the election, called on all the parties to do away with the hatred, to behave like good Jews, and to coalesce around the idea of forming a government. He said that yeshiva bochurim should return to their learning and everyone else to their regular lives. He called on a government with Gantz, without Lapid and Lieberman.

At this point, we could be just months away from another Israeli election, as it remains doubtful whether a governing coalition can be formed.

Having followed the directives of the gedolim to vote for the religious parties, those in the Torah camp return to their yeshivos, botei knesses and communities having done their part, turning their attention to the avodah of Elul and Tishrei, as a most critical time looms with the advancing yemei hadin.