May 24, 2019

Get Ready for Israel's Most Religious Knesset

“The real surprise of the April 9 elections was not the impressive result achieved by the new Blue and White party (with 35 Knesset seats) or even the burning out of the New Right party. It was the rise of the ultra-Orthodox parties. The Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, led by Knesset member Aryeh Deri, increased its Knesset seats from seven to eight despite assessments and predictions that it would get barely enough votes to enter the Knesset. The Ashkenazi Yahadut HaTorah party will have eight seats in the 21st Knesset, two more than the 2015 elections gave it.

With 16 seats in the 120-member Knesset, the ultra-Orthodox bloc is third in size after the Likud’s 35 seats and Blue and White’s 35. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot muster a majority for a coalition government without it. Blue and White, dubbed “the generals” party because of the three former army chiefs at its helm — Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi — understands the clout wielded by this bloc. After the polls closed, party leader Benny Gantz called Deri and Yahadut HaTorah leader Moshe Gafni to suggest they join a coalition with him as Israel’s next prime minister. The two declined, announcing they would go with Netanyahu as they had promised throughout the campaign.

Shas can attribute its success to an old-new campaign focused on religion and rabbis. In other words, the party returned to the traditional tactics that appeal to its electorate — handing out amulets, blessings, talismans, votive candles — all promising paradise in the afterlife to those who vote for the party. Deri took the party’s lackluster spiritual leader, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the successor of the party’s late charismatic spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on a helicopter campaign tour of the country. Social media sites targeting religious Jews displayed photos and videos exhorting Shas supporters to vote.”

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