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Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties make final push ahead of election

With the young ultra-Orthodox sick of their veteran politicians and expressing support for ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, the ultra-Orthodox parties fear losing votes.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and children perform the "Tashlich" ritual, during which "sins are cast into the water to the fish," ahead of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Netanya, Israel, Oct. 3, 2022.

ASHDOD, Israel — One day only before the election, the ultra-Orthodox parties are shifting gears in order to make sure their voters actually go to the polls. Against these parties, one of the most extreme ultra-Orthodox streams — Haeda HaHaredit — held a large rally last night, calling on its people not to vote. For them, Jews should avoid participating in Israeli secular politics.

In contrast to previous elections, two main trends can be seen in these no-vote efforts.

The first is the push to ensure the right-wing bloc has a majority. The ultra-Orthodox parties no longer see themselves as a separate bloc, disconnected from governing institutions of the secular state, but see it as their responsibility to ensure the fate of the right-wing bloc and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

This can be seen, for example, in tweets by United Torah Judaism (UTJ) senior Moshe Gafni. “We are in a place where a single vote matters, in a situation of 60 mandates. If the whole right-wing bloc doesn’t vote, it could be a huge catastrophe for the Jewish people. If one more mandate goes to vote, we will win this round!” Gafni tweeted last week.

The second trend is to try to prevent ultra-Orthodox votes from trickling out to ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Religious Zionism party. The ultra-Orthodox street, especially young people, has been enraptured by him. Shas is concerned about this phenomenon, but UTJ is practically hysteric. 

A senior source at UTJ told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The public is tired. We ran time and again to the polls, and naturally people want change. They don’t want to hurt the bloc, they don’t want to threaten ultra-Orthodox representation, and they find a solution: Ben-Gvir is both religious and right wing; you can vote for him this one time.” 

UTJ has recently released advertisements meant to sharpen the differences between them and Ben-Gvir, who, while religious, is far from the worldview of ultra-Orthodox voters. “We can’t forget that Ben-Gvir supports the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men in the military. He even transgressed the instruction of Jewish religious jurists when he goes to the Temple Mount. It is forbidden to vote for him.” 

These warnings, it seems, fall on deaf ears. One of Ben-Gvir’s campaign staffers told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “We get requests to come to house meetings from all of the ultra-Orthodox areas, even strongholds considered ‘ultra-ultra-Orthodox.’”

The staffer noted, “Many ultra-Orthodox wish to express their right-wing stance through Ben-Gvir. The ultra-Orthodox are becoming more and more right wing.”   

An ultra-Orthodox resident of the town of Modi'in confirmed this. He said that he has recruited dozens of young ultra-Orthodox men to support Ben-Gvir. “Voting for him [Ben-Gvir] doesn’t mean that I agree with his right-wing views. What’s important is that the right-wing bloc wins. So if I vote for Ben-Gvir I help the right, and thus I make sure that Netanyahu wins.” 

The ultra-Orthodox parties are also worried about a different phenomenon — which is somewhat reminiscent of Israeli Arab politics — young ultra-Orthodox voters have gotten sick of their veteran politicians. For the ultra-Orthodox parties, the list of candidates is decided by the rabbinical leadership. Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf, the first candidate on the UTJ Knesset list, is actually not well regarded on the ultra-Orthodox street. Among other things, there have been accusations against him (that have not been proven) of abuse toward nursery schoolteachers who work in the ultra-Orthodox daycare network he controls.

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