This has been a very difficult year for the ultra-Orthodox public and especially for haredi lawmakers.
The coronavirus pandemic hit the sector mercilessly. Lockdowns stuck large families in small houses, while yeshivah students roamed the streets aimlessly, and some have strayed from the righteous path. If that weren’t bad enough, animosity towards the haredi public reached new heights over its constant flouting of public-health directives.
Lockdown policies affected religious practices, the haredim were livid, and the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members were in the eye of the storm but were helpless to defend themselves as constituents’ rage grew.
When Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich stepped in as the alternative, he dragged the haredi parties into the election campaign battered and bruised. Haredi voters were angry and election-weary, and the danger of losing seats to the Religious Zionist Party was very real.
Then came Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman mounted the most egregious anti-haredi campaign ever seen in Israel. He claimed that the ultra-Orthodox were extortionists and parasites, and that they were making a mockery of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—and he promised that they would be deprived of budgets in the next government. He even went the extra mile by saying that they and Netanyahu should be heaped together in the trash.
Lieberman kept going on election day, warning voters that the haredim were rushing to the polls “in droves”—and this all took place in the Jewish state. Were he doing this in Europe, his outrageous remarks would earn nothing but condemnation; but in Israel, he maintained his power, winning (as of the latest count) six seats.
Lieberman may have fanned the flames, tearing secular and Orthodox Israelis apart, but he inadvertently saved the ultra-Orthodox parties’ campaigns. If nothing else, haredi voters rallied around their leaders to ward off a common enemy.
Shas and United Torah Judaism made it clear to their supporters that not voting on March 23 was akin to voting for Lieberman. Add to that the High Court of Justice’s ruling ordering the state to recognize non-Orthodox conversions, and a few anti-haredi remarks by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, and you have the answer to the question of how the ultra-Orthodox parties kept their parliamentary power.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.