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Trying to Close Ranks

Binyamin Rose

One of Binyamin Netanyahu’s main decisions, should he form the next government after the January 22 elections, will be if he can live with a coalition that includes chareidim. Perhaps the bigger question is whether the chareidim can live, politically, with each other.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

One is a younger man, with a short, trimmed beard. He is Ariel Atias of Shas. As minister of communications under Ehud Olmert’s administration, Atias took on the tycoons that controlledIsrael’s powerful telecommunications monopoly, knocking down consumer prices and opening the sector to competition. As minister of housing under Binyamin Netanyahu, he shepherded a record jump in housing starts in a land where housing is scarce and expensive.

The man with the long, white beard is Meir Porush, one of the few United Torah Judaism members to serve in the IDF. As housing minister in the 1990s, he shares credit for the construction boom and development in chareidi cities such as Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit.

Atias and Porush share two other similarities. Both are “seeded” third on their respective party slates in the upcoming January 22 election, and both sat side-by-side, sometimes tensely, in Mishpacha’s conference room last week for a wide-ranging discussion of the major issues facing the electorate.

Two men with two distinctive approaches to Yiddishkeit and politics. That’s par for the course — and normally, no cause for concern. So why are people worried?

The average chareidi voter approaches Election Day with trepidation — with the perception that chareidi parties have failed to deliver the goods. That perception is reinforced by a series of legislative setbacks, including the loss of IDF deferments and funding cutbacks to the yeshivah world. More than ever, chareidim find themselves on the defensive against claims they are not pulling their weight in Israeli society.

For the first time in a generation, the two mainstream chareidi parties — Shas and UTJ — face internal competition from two newly formed chareidi parties. Polls show that Am Shalem may slice two or three seats away from Shas. Factoring in the Israeli law that apportions Knesset seats based on voting percentages, the challenger to UTJ is not expected to win any seats, but it may siphon off enough votes to trim UTJ by one seat.

Mishpacha’s Hebrew-language edition has been polling chareidi voters weekly since the campaign began. While 48% say the call to draft yeshivah bochurim is the biggest threat to the chareidi lifestyle, some 30% fear that internal discord and divisions present the greatest danger chareidim face today. While chareidi parties historically make loyal coalition members in both right-wing and left-wing governments, Netanyahu has been making noises that his next coalition will be chareidi-free.

Are the people’s concerns warranted, or overrated?


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