The focus of everyone's attention in Israel is on foreign
policy issues, especially the "peace process" with the
Palestinians. In this area, the meaning of Barak's victory is
far from clear.
Barak was almost brilliantly vague in his campaign, as he
proclaimed a number of popular goals but did not even hint at
what he actually plans to do to reach them. The week since he
was elected has not cleared up any of the fog: he has yet to
announce any basic policy lines for his government-in-
In fact, many people voted not so much for Barak as against
Netanyahu who managed to antagonize a tremendous number of
people both inside and out of the government. Many whose
positions are naturally closer to Netanyahu on matters of
politics and diplomacy -- such as the Russians and portions
of the extreme right -- voted for Barak as a protest against
Netanyahu. The media was in any case on Barak's side, so
there was no one to press him to make his policies clear.
There was, however, another issue that was central to much of
the campaigning: Yiddishkeit. Meretz and Shinui
competed to raise the most sensationalist charges about
financial support for chareidim and its costs to society.
Labor also joined in. Truth was not a serious concern of the
campaigners (the figures that they cited for support of
yeshivas were not even close) and if they expect to be able
to cut back on financial support for the chareidi community
and have a big bonus for the "rest" of the country, they are
in for a big surprise.
There is, boruch Hashem, another side to this story.
United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas both ran on platforms
that championed Yiddishkeit, and both enjoyed
startling success. Shas was up 70% and UTJ was up 25%. Shas
is known to appeal to many non-chareidi voters, but
nonetheless they voted for a party whose central message is
Yiddishkeit. The UTJ vote is virtually entirely
composed of Jews who place Yiddishkeit at the top of
their concerns. For this purpose we can count also the
National Religious Party which had another 140,000 voters --
they certainly want Yiddishkeit even if they have
other priorities -- and many of their religious voters who
did not go to Shas went to the National Union, so there are
more voters who are difficult to count.
Together there were well over half a million voters, and
perhaps as many as three-quarters of a million, representing
several times that number of children, who declared openly
that they want to stand up and be counted for
The "anti" camp is smaller. Meretz and Shinui together had
only just over 400,000 votes, though there are anti-religious
elements in the Labor party as well. They do not represent as
many children, and they cannot claim to speak on these issues
for the large majority that voted on the basis of other
issues. Those people have a broad range of feelings about
religion, and most are far from the extreme "anti" positions
of Meretz and Shinui.
Yiddishkeit is big in Israel, even after the election
of Ehud Barak. If he truly wants to be the Prime Minister of
all Israel, Barak will not be able to ignore the
Yiddishkeit parties. Is it really thinkable, with the
many critical decisions to be made in the coming years, that
all the Yiddishkeit parties be in opposition?
Barak has a month and a half to put together his government --
a period only half the length of the campaign for a task that
is probably much harder. His two immediate predecessors --
Rabin and Netanyahu -- did the job quickly and got narrow,
fragile governments. Barak should take his time, and be sure
to forge a broad and stable government that will heal the