Israel Elects A New Government
By Dovid Hoffman
As Israel headed into the last week before elections, parties fought to garner a few more votes. Despite their efforts not much changed. The final pre-election polling, held last Friday, indicated that Netanyahu still had a chance to put together a strong rightist coalition.
United Torah Judaism Rally
Last Thursday night saw UTJ’s major rally of the 2013 elections, which was attended by the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah and hundreds of leading rabbonim and roshei yeshiva. Thousands crowded Binyonei HaUma in Yerushalayim where the rally was held, while tens-of-thousands more watched the rally on screens set up in central locations throughout Israel. Keynote speaker Rav Aharon Leib Steinman spoke of the great kiddush Hashem involved in voting for the Torah party.
“Kiddush Hashem is when Klal Yisroel says: We want Klal Yisroel and the entire Eretz Yisroel to act according to the dictates of sanctity and the Torah. This is a kiddush Hashem. By voting, each person is saying, ‘I want there to be a kiddush Hashem and that the entire Klal Yisroel should act according to the Torah.’
“This opportunity does not present itself every day,” continued Rav Steinman. “Right now, this is something the entire world can know of… This is the greatest opportunity. May Hashem help us merit that there be a true kiddush Hashem and that the entire Klal Yisroel act according to the Torah until the true redemption speedily in our days.”
Other rallies that took place last week included an emergency bnei Torah rally organized by Shas.
The UTJ campaign revolved around one axis- fighting to strengthen Torah in Eretz Yisroel. In line with this, the party printed flyers stating that voting for UTJ is no different than a regular Yissochor-Zevulen contract:
“An emergency, rare, and historical ruling from Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, which he instructed to publicize as follows: Voting for UTJ during the elections on the 11th of Shevat 5773 is tantamount to making a Yissochor-Zevulen agreement with the Torah world.”
Rav Steinman explained that just as a wife has a share in her husband’s learning because of the help she provides, so too anyone who votes for UTJ will be a full partner in the merit of the learning of myriads of dafim that his vote will facilitate.
Recently, when bnei Torah from overseas asked Rav Steinman what they could do to contribute zechuyos for the success of UTJ in the Israeli elections, they were told, “I do not know of anything stronger than Torah. Any increase in Torah learning, whether Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos, or Chumash and Rashi, or Mishnayos, all of these are very powerful.”
When asked whether a chosson was obligated to vote despite his many distractions, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman answered, “Nu. One quarter hour even a chosson can dedicate to fulfill the mitzvah of doing kechol asher yorucha.”
The Belzer Rebbe, in reply to the same question, said that a chosson should vote, as the election is a milchemes mitzvah for which a bridegroom must leave his room and a bride, her chupah.
Last week, Rav Gershon Edelstein, Rosh Yeshivas Ponovezh, warned that someone who fails to vote is counted as poreish min hatzibur, someone who separates himself from the Torah true public, of whom Rabeinu Yonahwrites, “A person who separates himself from the tzibbur is like someone criticizing a consensus to serve Hashem… He desecrates [Hashem’s] service and is included in the categories of people we mentioned who despise the word of Hashem and have no portion in the world to come.”
“Sometimes there is indifference,” Rav Edelstein said. “People come with complaints against the delegates, why they did this instead of that. Some complain that their appeal for help was ignored. But really, this is no reason not to vote, for everyone must increase the honor of Heaven even if the delegates did not help him. Furthermore, the delegates have good midos and some of them are moser nefesh for the tzibbur. There’s probably a reason why they did not help.”
Unfortunately, a number of Torah slogans fell afoul of the Central Elections Committee.
The Chidush organization, whose goal is to promote freedom from religion in Israel, complained that the last line of an appeal of the Gedolei Yisroel to vote for UTJ violated election rules. The line was, “We beg Hashem to grant children, life, sustenance and every blessing to those who vote and influence others to vote for the UTJ list.” This, the Chidush organization complained, violated an election law stating that, “Whoever persuades someone to vote for a particular candidates list by way of oaths, curses, excommunication, bans, vows, or promises to grant blessings, is punishable by five years imprisonment or a fine.”
In a similar vein, the Central Elections Committee invalidated a taped phone-call of Aryeh Deri because it included the words, “Vote for Shas and we will all merit to the blessing of Rabeinu Ovadiah Yosef.” Shas responded that they substituted those words with wishes for Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s recovery from the light stroke he suffered last week.
JEWISH HOME VERSUS SHAS
Last Wednesday, a duel developed between the Jewish Home and Shas after Ayelet Shaked, no. 5 on Jewish Home list, wrote that her party wanted to legalize civil marriages in Israel in order to save some 9,000 couples who need to marry overseas every year, and to seize the Chief Rabbinate from “the hands of the chareidim.”
“The rabbinate today rests solely in the hands of the chareidim,” she said. “Religious-Zionist rabbis cannot advance in that framework and therefore, with a coalition agreement, we will insist on fundamental changes to the Rabbinate, including the conversion system. According to halachah, it is also possible to perform conversions faster and more easily.”
Israel’s Yated Neeman retorted in response, “Already today the fictitious conversion process in Israel is sinking to new lows. Everyone acknowledges that the overwhelming majority of converts do not become fully observant Jews.”
In his weekly Motzoei Shabbos shiur, Rav Ovadia Yosef continued the attack, accusing Bennet’s party of having secular values.
“It is a party of non-Jews,” he said. “Whoever votes for them denies the Torah. Some people think they are religious… Who calls them the Jewish Home? This is not a home of Jews. It is a home of non-Jews! They want to uproot the Torah, to make civil marriages, to have transportation on Shabbat. Are these people religious? It is forbidden to call them religious. It is forbidden to vote for them. Whoever votes for them denies the Torah.”
Despite earlier claims that he is against coercing yeshiva students to serve in the army, Bennet unveiled a plan last week dubbed “Give and Take,” which would provide more social benefits to those who serve than to those who don’t.
“Our suggestion is preferential treatment to those who serve the state in army or national service, and benefits and incentives to those who serve in the reserve,” he said in a campaign video. “The goal is to increase the percentage of recruitment and no less important, to encourage those who serve and show that the state cares about them.”
The video explained the details of the plan. At present, students at subsidized universities or colleges pay about ten thousand shekels a year compared to thirty thousand per year paid to private colleges. The twenty thousand shekel reduction is a benefit from the state and is shared equally among all students, whether they served in the military or not. Bennet’s proposal is that tuition for those who serve would be 5,000 shekels a year, while chareidim or Arabs who fail to serve would finance the extra reduction by paying 25,000 shekels a year. Other benefits for those who serve would include cheaper housing, less income tax, cheaper childcare, bonuses to those who employ them, and various other measures.
Ironically, increasing college costs seems to conflict with Bennet’s past declarations of encouraging chareidim to enter the workforce.
Last Wednesday, less than a week before elections, Shas and UTJ agreed to forge a chareidi bloc with united policies in three crucial issues: yeshiva student conscription, yeshiva budgets, and matters relating to Jewish identity such as conversion. It was also agreed that neither partner would join a government without the other.
Likud officials claimed that despite fighting with Shas during the election campaign, Netanyahu still preferred forming a coalition with his natural partners, Jewish Home, Shas, and UTJ. To prevent a united Left from constantly working to undermine his government, he would include one or two parties from the center. The preference was to bring in Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. After all, both parties agree to Lapid’s demand for equitable enlistment law.
“I haven’t ruled anyone out,” Netanyahu told Israel Today last week. “At this stage the only ones being ruled out are me and my Likud party. We will outline the policy and guidelines for the next government: strength and security; responsibility and insistence on diplomatic objectives; fiscal responsibility; a more just division of the burden; and lowering the cost of living, particularly the cost of housing. Anyone who wants to align themselves with these objectives will be welcome to do so.”
He added that the defense and foreign ministry portfolios would remain in the hands of Likud-Beiteinu.
Last Tuesday, Jeffry Goldberg, a leftist correspondent, wrote a column describing President Obama’s purported attitude to Netanyahu. The article’s debut on the eve of elections caused some to suspect that Obama might have been retaliating for Netanyahu’s support of Mitt Romney during the USA’s elections.
“When informed about the Israeli decision [to build between Yerushalayim and Maaleh Adumim], Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn’t even bother getting angry,” he wrote. “He told several people that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.
“In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.’ With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
“The dysfunctional relationship between Netanyahu and Obama is poised to enter a new phase,” he added. “Next week, Israeli voters will probably return Netanyahu to power, this time at the head of a coalition even more intractably right-wing than the one he currently leads.” According to Goldberg, Obama is convinced that Netanyahu is “so captive to the settler lobby, and so uninterested in making anything more than the slightest conciliatory gesture toward Palestinian moderates, that an investment of presidential interest in the peace process wouldn’t be a wise use of his time.” This could lead to erosion of America’s diplomatic protection in the United Nations or even to Obama declaring a vision of Palestine with its capital in East Yerushalayim.
Netanyahu responded that while he did not know whether Obama was behind Goldberg’s article, he thought “that President Obama knows that the ones determining Israel’s vital interests are the citizens of Israel, and they will be the ones to choose who will protect those interests in the best possible way.” He added that his three main objectives are “preventing Iran from arming themselves with nuclear weapons, not going back to the indefensible 1967 borders, and keeping Jerusalem united.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu spoke with visiting United States senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.), telling them that, “the problem is not building in Ariel and it is not building in Jerusalem. The problem in the Middle East is Iran’s attempt to build nuclear weapons, and the chemical weapons in Syria and the Islamic extremism that is spreading in Africa and threatening to inundate the entire region.”
Netanyahu emphasized that, “history will not forgive those who allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. This was, and remains, the main mission facing not only myself and Israel, but the entire world.”
Netanyahu’s publicists invested efforts in finding popular Americans who admire Netanyahu. Donald Trump endorsed his reelection in a Likud election video, calling him “an amazing person and an exceptional person,” deserving the support of every Israeli. Another supporter, a well-known tough-guy actor, stated in a promotional video, “You might think I’m a tough guy in my films, but in a rough neighborhood like the Middle East, Israel has its own tough guy. His name is Bibi Netanyahu.”
A shot in the arm for Netanyahu was a report that the radical left Peace Now organizations issued last Wednesday, accusing Netanyahu of investing at least 3.7 billion shekels in surplus funding to West Bank towns between 2009 and 2012. The report said that the Likud’s “policies and actions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The report said that under the present government, Israel began building 6,867 new housing units over the Green Line, in addition to issuing tenders for 4,469 housing units in the West Bank and east Yerushalayim over the past two years alone.
MK Zeev Elkin of Likud thanked Peace Now for this assurance that Netanyahu, in contrast to Naftali Bennet’s claims, has the West Bankers’ best interests at heart.
NETANYAHU'S LAST GAMBIT
Concerned about Likud-Beiteinu’s slide in the polls, Netanyahu appointed former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon as director of the Israel Lands Administration, which manages over 90 percent of the land in Israel. Kahlon is famous for drastically reducing the price of cellphones when he was minister by forcing companies into transparent competiveness. Netanyahu’s plan is that people will perceive him as doing the same for Israel’s inflated housing market and they will credit Netanyahu with doing something concrete for Israel’s high cost of living, a threat no less serious to Israelis than the precarious security situation.
“I would like to praise Kahlon for taking this important task upon him and I promise to throw my full support behind him, just as I did with the communications reform,” Netanyahu said. “We will be able to implement this change with a strong ruling party. I promised four years ago that we would strengthen the security of our citizens and protect the Israeli economy and I kept those two promises. Amid regional turmoil and a global economic crisis, I promise that we will lower housing prices.”
Because Israeli law requires the head of the Israel Lands Administration to be a minister, Shas, which presently holds the Housing Ministry, is leery that Kahlon will be taking over its old sinecure. Deri attacked Kahlon’s appointment, saying that Netanyahu was handing out portfolios while neglecting to formulate a clear political platform.
In preparation for Election Day, Israel’s Central Election Committee printed 262 million ballot slips representing the 34 parties represented at the cost of 1.3 million shekels; a paper manufacturer’s joy. The vast number of slips was generated by a law that demands the printing of 7.5 million slips for each party in the unlikely eventuality that all Israel’s 5.6 million potential voters might vote for that party, while also supplying 30 percent extra slips in case ballot slips run out.
From early morning, Torah leaders of every kehillah set an example to their followers by setting out to vote. One of the first was Rav Chaim Kanievski who set out at 7:10 a.m. only ten minutes after the polling stations opened. By 8:00 a.m., when Rav Steinman was informed that his attendants were waiting for his driver to come and take him to vote, his response was, “What are you mean? We need sechar pesi’os, reward for each step we take.” Despite his advanced age, he and his entourage set off for a ten minute walk to his polling station. Afterwards, Rav Steinman tested the eighth grade boys of a nearby cheder, as he does every election. After that he went to be sandek at the bris of his latest grandson. He said that voting for UTJ fulfilled four mitzvos -- supporting Torah learning, kiddush Hashem, fulfillment of the mitzvah of heeding Torah sages, and avoidance of the transgression of not turning aside from what they instruct.
In Yerushalayim, Rav Ovadia Yosef appeared at his polling station in the company of the three Shas leaders, Aryeh Deri, Eli Yishai, and Ariel Attias. Due to his recent hospitalization from a minor stroke, he was supported by Yishai as they entered the building. Deri issued a special message to his party’s followers, adjuring them to follow Rav Ovadia’s example.
“Today we have the opportunity of a lifetime to fulfill a rare mitzvah and listen to the words of our chachomim,” he said. “Anyone who sees Maran, the distress, pain, and fear of our spiritual leader, the Moshe Rabeinu of our generation, who urges us to go and vote, will certainly go to the polling booth to vote for Shas with no further considerations.”
At the Belzer court in Yerushalayim, although the Rebbe has inherited the minhag of his uncle, Rav Aharon of Belz, to not personally vote, he urged his family to hurry out and vote; his 94-year-old mother went out to the local polling station together with his rebbetzin and son. Yesterday, when the Belzer Rebbe asked his gabbai if his grandson who is getting married in six months was legible to vote, the gabbai told him the sad news that the youngster would only be eighteen in another month’s time.
As the Vizhnitzer Rebbe neared his polling station, accompanying chassidim began dancing to the words, La’asos nachas ru’ach, and before voting he said a special Leshem Yichud that the mitzvah should be a nachas ru’ach to Hashem. On his way back home, hundreds of chassidim accompanied him while singing, Vehi she’amda. That morning after Shacharis, he had inquired whether his followers had already gone out to work for the elections.
Due to the urgency of this year’s Israeli elections, the Pittsburgh Rebbe of Ashdod went out to vote for the first time in his life. The Chernobyl Rebbe too, received a message from the Belzer Rebbe that this year he had an obligation to vote despite his past years of abstinence.
Voter turnout was super high. By 4:00 p.m., 46.6 of the voting public had voted; the highest turnout rate for the past 14 years.
This wasn’t good news for everyone. Since chareidim always enjoy high voter turnout, general high turnout means a possible lower percentage of chareidi votes.
On Tuesday afternoon MK Meir Porush said, “I am hearing that the voting percentage of secular Jews is higher than that of the chareidim. If you don’t want to get out of bed tomorrow in a bad mood or worse, you need to go out now and vote for gimel. Otherwise, our situation will be far worse than it is today.”
Turnout in Likud neighborhoods was said to be lower than that in leftist areas, leading
Netanyahu to make an urgent appeal at 3: 00 P.M. He said, “There are reports from traditional Likud neighborhoods that voting percentages are lower than the national average. I call upon Likud voters of every age to drop everything and go and vote.”
Likudniks cell-phones beeped, alerting them to hurry out and vote before they were flooded out by a leftist flood.
By 5:30, one Likud official was saying the party would be lucky if it got 31 seats and Netanyahu was wearing himself out trying to awaken Likud voters across the country. The Left began to gloat, Labor MK Yitzchak Herzog saying that if voter turnout exceeded 70 percent, Yachimovich would be the next prime minister.
Passing through Ashdod, Netanyahu went from one polling station to a local coffee shop where he encountered a lot of support.
“We need the votes,” he told the shop’s patrons. “Go out and vote and then come back to the coffee shop.”
Netanyahu had voted at his local polling station, along with his wife and two sons, held an impromptu press conference, raised his Likud-Beiteinu voting slip for the cameras, cast his ballot and left for the Kossel. There he slipped a kvittel between its ancient stones bearing the message, “B’ezras Hashem, for the future of Israel.”
“I keep coming back to the Kossel, to touch the bedrock of our existence, and I pray for the future of Israel and the future of our people,” he told reporters there.
Later in the afternoon, polling supervisors in Netivot rubbed their eyes when a chareidi bride came in to vote, accompanied by her relatives.
“Knowing the importance of these elections I was already on my way here this morning,” she told a surprised reporter. “But there was a lot of traffic so I decided to come back later on my way to the hall.”
As the polling stations closed at 10:00 pm, Slobodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak was in the midst of their traditional learning session that has been observed for the past forty years. This U’vocharta Bachayim seder, as it is known, begins at 9:30 when people are dying to know the election results, and continues until half-an-hour after midnight.
Shimon Peres will invite party representatives to present their cases as to who should put together the next coalition as prime minister. By law, he can task his chosen candidate with the job only eight days after the election when the Central Elections Committee has certified the final results. Whoever is chosen will then get to work putting together Israel’s new government.