Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Sivan 5759, May 26 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
Yiddishkeit is Big in Israel

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- formation.

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 Yiddishkeit.

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 wounds.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.