Spare a thought for the religious parties.
It’s true that the election results have been a blow for the entire religious-right community, but the knitted kippot and seculars among them will muddle on. Most of them have jobs to go to, fields stolen from the Palestinians to plough … That sort of thing. They’ll live to fight another day.
But for the ultra-Orthodox – Shas and the Ashkenazi Haredim – losing the election is an existential catastrophe. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.
The ultra-Orthodox essentially live off the state. They’ve been selling their political support to the highest bidder in return for money – lots and lots of money – ever since anyone can remember. There are those who say it dates back to the days of the Mishna.
Many of them don’t work and even more of them can’t work. Their schools don’t teach core subjects such as maths, English and science, so even those who want to work can only get low-paying, menial jobs. But why work when the state will pay you to study all day? Such beneficence is addictive, particularly if you’ve been on the receiving end longer than you can remember.
But now all that is threatened. Secular parties – egged on by no less than the devil incarnate Avigdor Lieberman – are threatening to pull the house down; destroy centuries of tradition and charity. Send yeshiva boys to the army. Desecration wherever you look.
What is a pious soul to do?
The answer, I suggest, is find another high bidder. The Haredi parties and Benjamin Netanyahu aren’t joined at the hip. They’ve been together for a long time, but it’s still a marriage of convenience – and every marriage can be terminated in the right circumstances.
It’s not as if the Haredi parties don’t have a checkered past. The Ashkenazi Haredim cohabited very happily with the predecessors of the current Labor Party for several decades until circumstances changed and the allure of Begin and the right caused them to change allegiance. But, again, it’s political allegiance, which is fungible. It’s not as if important things change.
Right now, as Netanyahu, Gantz and others square off against each other, the Haredi parties will be looking at their options.
It’s highly unlikely that Netanyahu will be leading the next government. If his Likud Party joins a wide coalition with the Blue and White coalition, the chances are close to zero that the religious parties will be invited to join – definitely not at the preferential conditions they’ve enjoyed for so many years under Netanyahu.
Things are looking dire. But there may be another option – one B&W is likely to consider if its efforts to dislodge Netanyahu from the leadership of Likud prove unsuccessful.
With 98% of the votes counted, B&W has 33 seats. With its natural allies on the left, Labor and the Democratic Camp, it has 44 seats. Adding the largely-Palestinian Joint List brings the number to 57 – which is not the 61 needed for a Knesset majority, beside which the Arabs are treyf and no-one wants to sit with them anyway.
But hang on, the religious parties have 17 seats. If they were to partner with B&W and the left, the alliance would have 61 seats – a majority, without Lieberman and without the treyf Arabs! Admittedly, the Haredim won’t have spiritually compatible settlers in the plush leather cabinet chairs beside them – but who needs spiritual comfort when you’re getting money?
And they will get money. The power-starved secular center and left will pay a lot to get rid of Bibi et al. They’ll be reliant on the Haredim for their Knesset majority, a reliance that can easily be expressed in monetary terms. True, everyone will have to bite their tongues and swallow principles by the wagon-load, but, hey, that’s politics.
There is only one other option if the religious parties are to be saved – a decision by Amir Peretz’s Labor Party to join the religious-right coalition. Peretz hotly denies that he’d ever do such a thing, but … it’s Peretz, remember. His political career is over anyway, so why not go out with a splash?
Without redemption by Peretz the religious parties will be at the mercy of Benny Gantz, a good Jew who, if I remember correctly, even came from a religious home. Watch this space.