In slightly under three weeks, Israel will be holding its 20th parliamentary election, which was declared after a long period of internal power struggles within the ruling coalition. Eventually, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to dissolve the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) after less than two years out of a four-year term. The initial public response to the election was outrage, with the common opinion being that the election is a waste of public funds caused by ego-driven quarrels rather than legitimate policy disagreements. However, that sentiment seems to have withered down as the election became more competitive and surprising.
Political parties in Israel can be categorized into five groups: Right, center, left, ultra-orthodox (“Haredi”) and Arabs. The right consists of Likud, the Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beiteinu. In the center we can find two parties: Yesh Atid and Kulanu. The left parties are the Zionist Camp (a union of Labor and Ha’tnua) and Meretz. In a historic move, the Arab parties decided to unite in the coming election and to run together as one united party. The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties also considered the idea of unity briefly but eventually decided to stay as separate parties: United Torah Judaism party (UTJ) for the Ashkenazi Haredis, Shas party for the Sephardic Haredis and Yachad for the hard-right wing Haredis.
The current government was formed by a coalition of center-right parties, in contrast to the right-Haredi coalition who ruled before. However, the coming election might put an end to the Netanyahu regime, which has been in power since 2009. The alternative to Netanyahu is the political couple Issac Hertzog and Tzipi Livni. Together, they lead the Zionist Camp alliance and aim to bring the Labor party back to power for the first time since 2001. Do they have a chance? The polls suggests a complicated answer.
Here are the numbers from the most recent polls (there are 120 members of Knesset):
(Babushka ranks the parties in brackets, not the WP)
Likud 24 [Right]
Zionist Camp 23 [Center-Left]
Jewish Home 13 [Hard Right]
United Arab Party 13 [Left]
Yesh Atid 8 [Center-Right]
Shas 8 [Religious Grifters]
Kulanu 8 [Center Right]
UTJ 8 [Religious Grifters]
Yisrael Beiteinu 6 [Hard Right]
Meretz 5 [Hard Left]
Yachad 4 [Religious Convicted Felons]
The first thing that pops up is just how close the leading parties are, with just one seat separating them. However, what bothers the Zionist Camp is not so much the number of votes it will receive but rather the number of votes that will be cast in favor of the political center.
A hard right and religious faction of the nationalist Jewish Home party came out in support of party head Naftali Bennett Sunday, backing the leader’s alliance with the anti-Haredi Yesh Atid party and calling it a move to protect settlements and Torah observance.
The Tekuma faction — headed by ultra-Orthodox rabbis who also belong to the political far right — penned an open letter in which they dismissed the “media hysteria” accusing Bennett of undermining religious Judaism.
Rabbis Dov Lior, Haim Steiner, and David Hai Hacohen voiced support for the party leader’s actions “for the sake of protecting the Torah world and settlement in the Land of Israel.”
Bennett has teamed up with Yesh Atid, which has said it will not enter a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox Shas or United Torah Judaism.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Shas leaders that political complications were keeping him from letting them into the coalition, a reference to the Jewish Home-Yesh Atid alliance.
Dov Lipman’s introduction to the conundrum of the ultra-Orthodox in modern Israel began more than two decades ago, when he was a 19-year-old American student in a Jerusalem yeshiva. It was during the gulf war, with Scud missiles threatening Tel Aviv, yet the prayer for Israeli soldiers that is commonly said daily in synagogues worldwide was not recited at the school.
“I couldn’t understand any ideology that justified living here and not praying for the soldiers who are risking their lives for us to be here,” said Mr. Lipman, who grew up in Maryland. But when he questioned the yeshiva rabbis about it, he said “they had no answer” beyond “it’s complicated - it’s politics.”
Now, Mr. Lipman is playing a critical role in trying to unravel those complicated politics and integrate the insular ultra-Orthodox into the broader society. They have long lived a world apart: they attend separate schools with a curriculum short on math, science and English; rarely serve in the military; and have large families living on welfare because men study Torah rather than work. He was among the 19 people elected to the Israeli Parliament last month from the new Yesh Atid Party, whose primary platform is to “equalize the burden” between the ultra-Orthodox, known here as Haredim, and the rest of society.
But unlike the party’s secular leader - and the vast majority of its voters - Mr. Lipman, an ordained rabbi, has an ultra-Orthodox background and has tried to position himself as a constructive critic from within.
“I share the same value system,” Rabbi Lipman said, citing the importance of studying Torah, the “fears about societal influence” and the desire to limit interaction between men and women. “The Haredim have done themselves a disservice by saying it’s us against them and we will not be part of Israeli society.”
Sworn in on Tuesday as one of 48 first-time lawmakers - the most since the earliest days of Israeli independence - Rabbi Lipman, 41, is the first American-born member of Parliament since Rabbi Meir Kehane was elected in 1984. The new 120-seat body also has more Orthodox members (39 of them) than ever and more women (27), including the first born in Ethiopia, and the youngest member ever elected, Stav Shaffir, who is 27 and was a leader of the 2011 social protest movement.
Rabbi Lipman, an educator and author of three books, is also the first legislator from Beit Shemesh, a city of 80,000 people halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that became an international symbol of the Haredi conflict when a group of men spit at an 8-year-old girl on her way to school in late 2011 because they considered even her modest dress inappropriate. Rabbi Lipman’s activism after that episode and in other Beit Shemesh controversies paved the way for his political future, but also created many critics close to home.
He is beloved by many of the modern Orthodox in Beit Shemesh, but several Haredi leaders here questioned his legitimacy as a spokesman for their community, pointing out that the Yesh Atid Party received 1,273 of the city’s 29,593 votes. They also noted that Rabbi Lipman does not pray in a Haredi synagogue or send his children to Haredi schools, and said he did not understand the “nuances” of Haredi culture. Some have called him a “rabbi of Purim,” a holiday in which children don costumes.
“He has created a kind of Haredi that allows him to don the black kippa, wear the suit of a yeshiva student, while being part of a party with values that are opposite of the values of the Haredi sector,” said Moshe Abutbul, the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Beit Shemesh. “It is as though I would put on a white robe and call myself a doctor.”
More at NY Times: NYT: Rabbi Dov Lipman Seeks to Brid
Kol hakavod to Dov Lipman. He is facing a lot of opposition in Beit Shemesh, but he he has Babushka’s support! Yair Lapid is also to be supported for recruiting Haredim to become members of his party, in spite of his late father’s reputation as the Enemy of the Haredi sector.
It is a very sad thing that Dov Lipman has so many opponents in the Haredi sector. Israelis of all types: Secular, Haredi, Arab, need to learn to live and work together for goals they all want to achieve.
In the past decades, the general understanding on the political scene was that Israeli elections are determined, above all, by voters’ sense of personal security.
Apparently, however, the 2013 elections are different. Four years of relative calm did not help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither did his implied threats that the Iranian bomb is approaching, and the Arab Spring is out there raging.
Many voters took advantage of the calm to vote according to what really bothered them: their economic situation, the social gaps, the fact that some Israelis bear the burden of the military and taxation while others do not, or a sense of just being plain fed up with the existing regime.
Based on the vote counts overnight, it looks like Netanyahu will move as far as possible from establishing a new coalition of the right and the ultra-Orthodox (even if, after the soldiers’ votes are added to the toll, it is revealed that he could create such a coalition).
The reasonable assumption now is that the coalition will be based on Likud and Yair Lapid’s new party Yesh Atid, with one or two parties from the center-left bloc and perhaps Habayit Hayehudi to Netanyahu’s right. There is a practical opportunity here for Netanyahu to do what he promised, on that strange night less than a year ago, when he brought Kadima and its leader MK Shaul Mofaz into his coalition: change the system of government, and, first and foremost, find a solution to the dispute over drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army.
The Tal Law, which allowed ultra-Orthodox to postpone military service, already lapsed last summer. The law that supposedly organizes the draft is the old military service law, whereby the ultra-Orthodox are also supposed to be conscripted. Thus far, 3,000 out of the 8,000 ultra-Orthodox who supposedly should be conscripted have received their first call-up notice and reported. But in actuality, not a single one of them has been conscripted. The army has begun to put the process into effect but is still waiting to implement it in accordance with instructions that will come after the election.
Haaretz’s headline is unnecessarily sensational. The Haredim are not an enemy that has to be crushed, they are a community that has to be integrated into society.
Yair Lapid, (I was really hoping for him and was pleasantly surprised) is trying to overcome his father’s reputation as an opponent of the Haredim, by reaching out and working together with the Orthodox community. He recruited Haredim to become members of his party list. His goal was to create a party that included secular and religious members.
On Friday, I took a flight to Georgia and, as fate would have it, I ended up next to a young mother–whose entire family was seated in the rows behind us. After hearing her yell back to her relatives a few times in Hebrew, I knew I was in the midst of the most Thomas Friedman moment possible and so, after some small talk and some sharing of chewing gum, I finally asked her who she was voting for in the election.
Her answer: Yair Lapid.
It was a strange conversation because she also expressed admiration for the leadership qualities of The Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, whom she said had the spirit. So why Lapid, I asked? She cited the economy, his muscular approach to the peace process, and most of all, the energy he brings.
‘Energy that would net about as many seats as Shas?’ I countered.
‘We’ll see,’ she said.
Her reasoning sounded like pablum until this afternoon when supporters of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party made some serious noise at the polls. And no matter how the final numbers turn out, the biggest winner of the Israeli election is Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid in nothing short of a barnstorm.
Earlier this month, when we were putting together our Tablet guide to the Israeli elections, like many others, we had Lapid down as a notable subplot in the election drama, but not as the main story. (We were more concerned with Bennett’s spirit.) Here’s what we said about Lapid:
Yair Lapid, a 49-year-old telegenic former news anchor for Channel 2, is the head of the new centrist party Yesh Atid, which seems short on concrete solutions, and is relying on winning votes by pushing issues like governmental and economic reform. Lapid, the son of a prominent member of Knesset and justice minister Josef ‘Tommy’ Lapid, has also capitalized on the issues of economic and social justice brought about by 2011’s J14 tent protests (see Etgar Keret’s piece for more on that). But he also has hawkish stances; Lapid claims he won’t join a coalition that refuses to return to negotiations with the Palestinians, opposes giving up Jerusalem in a peace deal, and wants both Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army.
This article makes it sound like Yair Lapid really wants to crush the “Ultra Orthodox,” which is what his father’s party wanted to do 10 years ago. However Yair is not like that, and recruited Haredim for his party list.
I am really surprised because I did not expect Yesh Atid to do so well right out of the chute.
Mazal Tov, Yair.