Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

Three Weeks Until Israeli Elections Attempt To Disqualify Shas and Degel Hatorah

Election fever ran rife during the past week in Israel. The Central Elections Committee dealt with attempts to disqualify various parties including Shas and Degel Hatorah. Likud-Beitenu stepped up its efforts to draw in religious votes. Naftali Bennet of the religious-settler-right roused furor with a statement that he would refuse orders to expel Jews from their homes. Netanyahu angered Shas by commenting that he would remove their hold over the Interior and Housing ministries. Various secular parties strove to gain political advantage by attacking the Torah tzibbur.

Most parties began their advertising campaigns weeks ago. In contrast, Likud-Beiteinu, which has the most money to spend, only began its election campaign last Wednesday, seemingly under the impression that its present handling of the country is sufficient to lure voters to its side without the need for much publicity. Many Likud officials have complained of the party’s ‘sleepy’ efforts so far.


Likud-Beiteinu slogans emphasize its leaders’ hard line policies with slogans like, “A strong prime minister, a strong Israel.” Other slogans stress the importance of voting for a large party instead of for small fry: “Don’t waste your vote on small parties; give me the power to lead the State of Israel.” Party officials explained that many people are bothered that Israel has no true central form of government. Instead, the country’s policies are directed by a hodge-podge of coalition partners, each pulling in different directions.


Environment Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, chairman of the Likud’s election campaign public response team, emphasized both above points. Regarding tough leadership he said: “These elections are first and foremost a question of who is capable of leading the state of Israel during a period in which the Middle East is transforming, the regimes around us are crumbling, Israel is faced with real threats like the strengthening of Hamas in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, and, of course, the Iranian threat hovers over us,” he said. “So people need to ask themselves: Who has the résumé and the international understanding to face down these very real threats?”


Regarding consolidation of power he added: “The second question is the size of the ruling party and the number of Knesset seats it will win. Will voters allow the leader to concentrate on the issues and tackle them with full force? Or will they put their trust in a coalition, where all of the parties pull the ship in their own separate directions? …That is why we merged the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu lists.”


Over the weekend, Likud propaganda targeted the country’s national religious Jews, the population group most likely to vote for Likud’s far right rivals, the Jewish House party and the extreme Strong Israel party. This campaign utilized a poster that is as likely to antagonize mainstream religious Jews as to attract those of national religious orientation. Featuring six religious Likud candidates flanked by Netanyahu and Lieberman, the slogan declares: “The National Religious community has became part of the top leadership of the ruling party Likud-Beiteinu. The revolution continues!”


The poster goes on to deride any religious Jew not amenable to its message: “Divisive religious people vote for the Jewish Home, chareidim vote for Shas, leftist religious voters vote for Livni, politically correct religious voters vote for Lapid.”


To attract extreme national religious Jews another poster features the likeness of Moshe Feiglin who was kept off the Likud list for the past decade due to his rightist views. It bears the slogan: “Religious Zionists vote for Likud-Beiteinu.”


Netanyahu and Lieberman officially inaugurated their election campaign this Tuesday with a huge convention at the Binyonei Ha’umah hall in Yerushalayim. This was the signal to begin flooding the country with advertisements and posters bearing the venerable campaign initials of the Likud party – MaCHaL.




As part of his plan to concentrate power in the hands of larger parties, Netanyahu angered Shas over the weekend by stating that a new government would want a Likud member as a Housing and Construction Minister to cut down bureaucracy and increase building efforts. Likud-Beiteinu has blamed Shas Housing Minister Ariel Atias for Israel’s severe housing shortage over the past few years. Netanyahu also expressed interest in taking control of the Interior Ministry, which is presently under the control of Shas Minister Eli Yishai.


During his weekly Motzoei Shabbos shiur, Rav Ovadiah Yosef attacked Netanyahu’s proposal to rid Shas from those two ministries they have long held.


“Whose heart is pained over the weak and downtrodden poor?” he said. “Bibi wants to cut more than ten billion from every government office! …The Interior Ministry gives reductions in taxes and licenses [to the poor]. All this is done by our minister who is one of us. They want to take the kivsat harash (poor man’s sheep) from us. They want to take the Ministry of Housing from us… What didn’t Atias do for the weak, Sephardim and Ashkenazim? All previous ministers sat home smoking nargillas. Not so our Minister Atias who acted on behalf of the poor and weak. So rabosai, those who love the poor must go in the way of Hashem who loves the poor, go in His ways and help the poor for the sake of strengthening the Torah.”


Shas officials are concerned that Netanyahu’s remarks indicate he may not want Shas in the next coalition and threaten they can play the same game.


“We will not go along with Likud at any price,” a Shas official threatened. “It is certainly possible we may go with the Left.”


Some cynics claim that the whole altercation is a bluff. Pretending to be enemies is a good election tactic for both sides, they say, and once the elections are over business will return to normal.




Naftali Bennet, head of the Jewish Home party, also attacked Shas, insisting that the interior and housing ministries should immediately be taken from its control. He also said that the best way to improve the financial situation of the chareidi community is to gradually draft its young people into the army and integrate them into the work force. It is worth his while to attack Shas as internal polls of his party indicate that five or six mandates worth of voters are uncertain whether to vote for his party or for Shas.


Naftali Bennet’s party is also threatening to “steal” many votes from Likud-Beiteinu and become the country’s third largest party. A central plank of his party’s election campaign is for Israel to annex Area C, an area including almost all the Jews of Yehuda and Shomron and only with only 4% of its population Arabs. Bennet set off a furor last Thursday when he told Channel 2 during an interview that he would personally be jailed rather than obey an army order to evacuate Jews from their homes.


“If I received an order to evacuate a Jew from his home, my conscience would not permit me to do so and I would ask my commanding officer to excuse me,” Bennett said.


“I am not capable of entering a Jew’s home and ordering him to leave. But I also wouldn’t evacuate an Arab from his home,” he added. “I served for 22 years, so far, in the military and have led soldiers into wars and operations. No one can teach me what I will or will not do. Part of being a soldier is refusing an order on the basis of one’s conscience. I have taught soldiers that an order that is not morally reasonable should not be heeded. To evacuate people from this land is a terrible act.”


His comments provoked a wave of protests across the political spectrum. Although Netanyahu has stated that he will accept any coalition partners so long as they accept the Likud Beiteinu ideology and basic guidelines, in reaction to Bennet’s statement he said he would not accept anyone who told soldiers not to obey orders.


“Anyone who refuses [to obey a command] won’t be a minister in my government,” he said. “This is a serious issue. Israel’s existence is based on its army. I was quite surprised to hear that Naftali Bennett supports insubordination as a personal example… No one who supports insubordination will serve in my government.”


By Motzoei Shabbos, Bennet changed his tune and tried to deny ever saying he would disobey a military order. Netanyahu had twisted his words for his own ends he said.


“This evening, I turn to tens of thousands of youths and IDF soldiers who see me as a role model,” he said. “Because of political games and media spin, the IDF’s unity could be seriously damaged. Tens of thousands of youths might mistakenly think that I have called for refusal, and take a personal example from me based on this mistake. First, the facts: I never called for refusal of orders.”


“I have served in the IDF for 22 years, as a combat soldier and commander. I fought in all of Israel’s campaigns during this time, including unknown ones. I repeat: I never called for refusal of orders, and any intelligent viewer understands this. But in the Likud and the political arena they pounced on my statements, twisted them around, and created the impression that I had called for refusal of orders. In order to gain a quarter of a Knesset seat, they compromised the IDF’s unity.”


Although uprooting an Arab village or a Jewish community is a fatal blow to the most basic human rights, he said, if worst comes to worst he clearly stated: “A soldier must obey the military’s orders.”


Bennet also took the opportunity to challenge Netanyahu to admit whether or not he was contemplating expelling Jews from any settlements.


Likud-Beiteinu rejected Bennet’s turnabout saying in a statement: “The public will have to decide who to believe, Bennett A or Bennett B.”




Some of Israel’s politicians are falling back on the time honored tactic of bolstering power with the old canard – Strike chareidim and save Israel. At a convention last week, Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, said that a solution to the country’s financial problems would be to stop funding religious Jews.


“The old style of politics has turned us into pyramid supporting various interest groups and sectors and sectors who sit on the workhorse’s back as it gets thinner and thinner. This workhorse is called the ‘Israeli middle class.’ Every time one of these sectors gets itself something, another brick is laid down on the back of the horse.”


“The chareidim get themselves a billion shekels for building in [new neighborhoods of the town] Charish while for a ‘horse’ to buy his son an apartment costs 128 salaries,” he continued. “An outpost sited outside the settlements blocs in Yehuda and Shomron gets its own bypass road – while the ‘horse’ pays 8 shekels for eight cubic meters of water that only cost 3 shekels to bring to his home… Hundreds of thousands of healthy people are not working and live from stipends but that’s no problem – raise the price the ‘horse’ must pay for gasoline.”


Instead of a recent plan to raise taxes for over 400,000 middle-class families, he suggested, why not cut stipends for chareidim and for settlements?


Tzipi Livni, head of the new Hatnuah party also attacked the chareidim, complaining about authorization to enlarge the chareidi neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in Yerushalayim.


In reaction to this, Transport Minister Yisroel Katz pointed out that if anyone overseas complained of building apartments for Jews he would be accused of anti-Semitism.


Kadima, Israel’s largest party at present, which is expected to die in the upcoming elections also sought to bolster its ratings with a poster declaring: “Pay soldiers the same as avreichim.” The poster claims that while Kollel avreichim receive 3,400 shekels monthly, soldiers need to be satisfied with a meager 352 shekels.


Even Israel bus companies were bothered by the Kadima poster. The Egged company serving the Yerushalayim region and the Dan company in the Tel Aviv area refused to carry the posters until “avreichim” was replaced by something more generic such as “those who do not serve in the army.”


In reaction, Kadima accused the bus companies of striking against the army.


“The bus companies have come out against IDF soldiers who bear the burden and endanger their lives on a daily basis for Israel’s security,” the party said. “These companies take soldiers to their bases and back home. This constitutes a basis for a handsome profit made by their owners and now they are choosing to censor, for reasons warranting clarification, a national and idealistic message calling to compare the conditions of the serving soldiers who make a meager salary of NIS 350 (about $95) a month to the yeshiva students, who enjoy a salary of NIS 3,400 (about $905).”


“Egged does not intend to allow various parties to use buses as a negative advertising platform; liable to cause resentment and discomfort to the users of its services,” Egged responded.


The bus companies are not necessarily acting altruistically. They simply don’t want to get involved in conflict with groups that might disapprove of their advertisements. There was a similar incident in August when religious Jews objected to advertisements that depicted women, and a liberal organization appealed against this in the Supreme Court on the grounds of gender discrimination. Egged announced that from now on its buses would carry no advertisements of with pictures of either men or women.




During the past days there were various attempts to disqualify certain parties and to prevent an Arab politician from running for the next elections. Rightists tried to disqualify the Arab-Israeli National Democratic Assembly and the Ra’am-Ta’al parties on the grounds that they act against Israel, support armed resistance against Israel, and do not agree to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Three years ago, in 2009, the Knesset Elections Committee voted to disqualify the two parties on similar grounds. The decision was overturned by the High Court).


Rightists attempted to disqualify MK Hanin Zoabi of the National Democratic Assembly for her participation in the Gaza Flotilla in May 2010. Zoabi was on board the MV Mavi Marmara when Israel commandos were attacked by activists on board. Footage from the boat showed her repeatedly inciting against Israel and calling for a third Intifada. Although the Knesset voted 34-16 to strip her of certain parliamentary rights, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein subsequently closed the case against her in 2011 “as a result of significant evidentiary and legal difficulties.”


Leftists tried to disqualify the extreme right-wing Strong Israel party on the grounds of its alleged incitement to racism, its opposition to Israel as a democratic state, and its support of terror organizations such as Rav Meir Kahana’s Kach party.


Feminist organizations aimed to disqualify Shas and United Torah Judaism on the grounds that they have no women on their slates and that their central goal is denial of Israel as a democratic state.


The reaction of parties to the attempts to oust them was varied.


Aryeh Eldad of the Strong Israel Party mockingly “pleaded guilty” to the charges made against his party:


“The claims that we are racist because we want to apply Israeli law to the entire land of Israel is correct,” he said. “The claim that that we are racist because we want to make Hebrew the sole official language is true. We have even submitted a bill to this effect written by Prof. Ruth Gavison. They claimed that we are racist because we are working towards the eviction of illegal residents and infiltrators – this is true. We believe that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.”


Regarding the gender accusations made against them, the two Torah parties responded with a letter from their lawyers that while they do not oppose other parties having female Knesset members, as far as “the parties operate, in accordance to halachah, with a clear separation between men and women – for reasons of modesty. Men of the respondent [parties] have one function, and women a different one. The division of roles is not in order to exclude women or discrimination against them, or to argue that women are less than men.”


The letter argued that on the contrary, the attempt to disqualify Shas and Degel Hatorah was against the norms of democracy.


“In a democratic state, should a party that wishes to follow halachic rules be unworthy and unable to be elected to the Knesset?” it asked. “Is such a claim not clearly anti-democratic? Respondents operate in accordance to the halachah and therefore their Knesset representatives are men. If this approach is not acceptable to anyone, let them not vote for the respondents.”


As for the claim that Shas and UTJ are undemocratic, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein argued on their behalf that, “The only claims in the request for disqualification are parts of the articles of the Shas and Agudas Israel parties, which do not indicate that the purpose platforms or practical programs of the parties are intended to negate the existence of Israel as a democratic state.”


The Attorney-General opposed all the moves to reject parties and candidates. He said that there was no legal base or convincing base to disqualify the rightist and Torah parties, and that although there was evidence that members of the two Arab parties were disturbingly close to negating Israel as a Jewish state and supporting terrorism, the evidence did not fulfill disqualification criteria set by the high court.


The Knesset Elections Committee rejected the motions to disqualify any political parties, but voted to strike Zoabi’s name from the ballot. This last decision that must still be ratified by a special nine-member panel of the High Court of Justice.


Zaobi angrily complained that the decision was a result of the “moral illegitimacy that comes with the tyrannical rule of the majority and the suppression of a basic right in a democracy.”


“The decision is a result of a political vendetta and a lowly attempt to infringe the representation of Arab constituencies,” she added. “I am convinced that in a democracy one has to continue fighting for equal status, as it is the only available course of action.”


Her party declared that it “fully supports MK Hanin Zoabi and every action she takes,” and threatened that “if the High Court of Justice does not overturn this decision, the National Democratic Assembly would not compete in the upcoming Knesset elections.”


And so went another week of Israeli politics.



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