Following threats by the Degel HaTorah faction within the United Torah Judaism party that it intends to make a separate run for the next Knesset in this November’s election, if certain issues are not resolved, the party’s other faction, Agudat Yisrael, has responded with warnings of its own. “Dispute is ideological, but will be overcome,” predicts Agudat Yisrael source.
A senior member of Agudat Yisrael noted that despite the threats, a separate run risks seeing both factions left out of the next Knesset, with Degel HaTorah in most danger of not passing the electoral threshold.
“Neither us nor Degel HaTorah pass the electoral threshold if we both run independently,” the official said, adding that, “the victory in the [municipal elections in Jerusalem with the win of Mayor] Moshe Lion made Degel HaTorah overly confident, which is why they’re now so certain that they can pass [the electoral threshold].”
He explained further that previous election cycles have also seen Degel HaTorah threaten a separate run, but that this time around, the dispute is more ideologically based than in the past, due to Degel’s allegations that the Belz Hassidic group has decided to adopt the core curriculum (Liba) in its boys’ schools, something that is a red line for rabbis affiliated with the Lithuanian Degel HaTorah movement.
“There’s a solution for everything,” he added. “We’ve tried to come to understandings with them, but every time it looked like we were making progress in our joint talks, an anonymous source entered the picture and scuppered everything. It looks very much like there’s someone who’s interested in seeing Degel run independently and fail to pass the threshold.”
When asked whether Degel’s claims that it has more supporters among the electorate are based in reality, the official insisted that Agudat Yisrael is capable of bringing out more voters.
“Why should haredim with a more modern outlook, or haredim who are interested in the core curriculu, vote for Degel HaTorah when the entire reason for a separate run (if it happens) is the fact that Agudat Yisrael supports learning the core curriculum?” he said.
He added that, “It’s possible that we would come to some kind of accommodation with the Peleg Yerushalmi [Lithuanian haredim who are anti-Zionists], which is impossible for Degel to achieve due to the bad blood between them.
“There’s also Chabad where we can run a campaign – as we always do – and there again, Degel is far less in the picture. And we have dozens of Hassidic groupings which usually don’t vote but will turn out in order to maximise Hassidic representation.
“The polls aren’t indicative,” he added. “UTJ knows how to count votes and this applies even more specifically to Agudat Yisrael which has extremely effective local party organizations that use very advanced technological means.
“Agudat Yisrael and Degel together have between 120 and 130 thousand voters,” he continued. “That means that they won’t pass the threshold if they run separately. But if that does happen, Agudat Yisrael will bring more votes.”
The official stressed, however, that Degel’s threats are just that – threats – and will not come to pass. “It appears that there’s someone there who doesn’t want Ashkenazi haredim to be represented in the next Knesset. How can they take on such a responsibility when the yeshivah world is likely to be harmed by such a development? When [Transportation Minister Merav] Michaeli wants to destroy Shabbat – who’s going to stand up and oppose her?”