What's at the heart of Israel's election campaign?

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Feb 18, 2021, 9:28:01 PM2/18/21
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A message from Hiddush

Feb. 18, 2021
6th of Adar, 5781

Dear Friends,


The Israeli elections are approaching, and with them two conflicting emotions are strengthening: on the one hand, tensions are rising and the competing parties are increasing the pace of their statements and exercises of self-glorification and smearing of their opponents. On the other hand, there is a growing feeling that even these elections will not bring Israel to a decision between the blocs, and quite a few articles have already announced that a fifth round is expected!

As we wrote below, the main struggle is between Bibi and his supporters and the "just not Bibi" bloc. In between there are quite a few dramas and question marks regarding the chances of survival of some of the parties that were represented in the previous Knesset. But, as we describe, religion and state issues continue to occupy a central place in the public and political discourse. It will not surprise our readers that we sympathize with Aron Heller's call [see below] to take advantage of this election to decide this fateful struggle, but it seems that the cynical attitude of many politicians will not change until the public teaches them that there is a price for their cynicism and disregard.

All the polls indicate a balanced struggle between the two blocs, and many of them indicate that Bibi and his supporters will not have a majority of 61 or more seats in the Knesset this time either. We know, of course, that a majority of 61, which is indeed a legal majority, is also a recipe for political suicide and constant surrender to the blackmail of coalition partners. What exercises will the contestants pull out of their hats after the election to try to break this equation of equality? We do not know yet. What is clear is that this will increase further erosion of public confidence in the political system and the loss of enormous resources from the state coffers.

The public for the most part supports a broad civic coalition, as has been demonstrated more than once by new polls. Will this time increase the politicians' intelligence, responsibility and compliance with the will of the public? Days will tell.

Best Wishes,

Uri Regev & Stanley P. Gold, 
Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel


More about religion, politics and elections in Israel

All the relevant political players understand that issues of religion and state are at the heart of the election battle and will be key elements in the negotiations that will be undertaken following the elections.

On the face of it, the political campaigns ahead of the elections are focused on Benjamin Netanyahu: those who support the formation of a government headed once again by him [while making confident and decisive statements that he and the parties supporting him will receive at least 61 seats in this election] and those who stand in the camp against him: "Just not Bibi." However, in the background, all the relevant political players understand that issues of religion and state are also at the heart of the election battle and will be key elements in the negotiations that will be undertaken following the elections.

This can be seen in the statements of some of the electoral candidates [and, of course, in the silence of others, such as the Likud, who understand that their plan to partner with the ultra-Orthodox parties and accept their terms in exchange for their support are not popular with the general public, nor even among the majority of their own voters]. Recently, the Israel Democracy Institute confirmed the results of Hiddush’s survey data, published multiples times over the past two years, based upon multiple surveys it conducted: A large majority of the public opposes the inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition; and, at the very least, opposes their ability to dictate to the coalition the policy on Judaism.

We learned about the complexity of this matter, for example, during a webinar we held last week, in which we heard from Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who is expected to enter the Knesset on behalf of the Labor Party. Naturally, his commitment to the values of freedom of religion and pluralism is self-evident, but he underscored the limitations of the political system and the need to reach compromises, should the Labor Party finds itself in a coalition. Furthermore, in recent days, the head of the party, MK Merav Michaeli, clarified in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox media that she does not see a problem with sitting in a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties. She refrained from taking a clear stand regarding the obligation for yeshiva students to enlist like all others when she was asked about it.

There was a special interest in the words of Consul-General Dani Dayan, a candidate with the New Hope Party [we highly recommend you listen to the above-mentioned webinar], who well expressed the uniqueness of this distinctly right-wing party, which is led by Gideon Saar. This illustrates Hiddush’s major claim since its founding: there is no overlap between the split between the right- and left-wing and the one between those who support freedom of religion and equality and those who support the "status quo" on religious issues.

Likud spokesmen in recent years have tried to create this identification between religiosity, tradition, and the political right - but Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, has been standing against them this past year [see below the list of "Ten Commandments on Religion and State" published by Lieberman in recent days. It should be noted that it is difficult to attribute full weight to this list, although it reflects a welcome trend. His statement regarding the representation of women on the Chief Rabbinical Council seems unrealistic, and his support for extending authority over conversion to city rabbis is problematic and limited, for it would have been better if he had explicitly supported equal recognition of the conversions of all streams in Judaism]. Now, the New Hope party is also clarifying that it is not supportive of the "status quo" and intends to promote more liberal policies on key religious issues. Gideon Saar clarified several times his opposition to religious coercion, its support for opening supermarkets on the Sabbath on a limited basis, in addition to expressing his intention to invite the ultra-Orthodox parties to the coalition led by him if he is invited to form it following the election. On the other hand, he declined to go into details about his position on the various issues of religion and state, and he clarified that these issues would be the basis for coalition negotiations.

It is important to note that it is not just the Labor Party and New Hope that emphasize these elements of their platforms ahead of the election [and of course Meretz, Yesh Atid, and even Blue & White, whose future is dim, has begun in recent days to call for immediate legislation of the Civil Marriage Act during the pandemic period. A look at the details of the initiative shows how serious it is, for despite the use of the term "civil marriage" it speaks of only a "marriage covenant". Beyond that - this is an artificial call for the needs of the Blue & White party’s campaign ahead of the upcoming elections, for Gantz knows that there is no chance of passing such legislation in the month before the election. Further, let us note the fact that Blue & White did not make such a call or make moves in this direction until this week].

It is also Naftali Bennett, head of the mainstream religious right-wing party, who is playing "new tunes" regarding partnership with the ultra-Orthodox. In an interview last night in the ultra-Orthodox media, he was asked about his recent statement about countless cases in the Netanyahu government, regarding which he said, "In the shadow of the pandemic, the ultra-Orthodox have become the homeowners of the state." He was asked, "What happened now that you are saying this, maybe it is because of the polls that show that the majority of the public does not want the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government?" He answered with these words: "I think that just as I dismissed, when I was in the post of Minister of Education, those things that discriminated against the ultra-Orthodox, the ultra-Orthodox should be the first to oppose discrimination against secular children. Does it sound reasonable to you that ultra-Orthodox schools are open while secular schools are closed?"

Of course, these things do not go unnoticed in the ultra-Orthodox camp, which also ramps up the volume of its rhetoric. For example, the leader of the United Torah Judaism Party, MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, recently said: "Whoever wants us to form a coalition, will have to regulate the issues that are close to our hearts: The status of yeshiva students, and the override clause, which includes everything." [That is - continue exempting yeshiva students from military or civilian service, and castrate the Supreme Court so that its political rulings could be overturned with ultra-Orthodox political pressure. As Gafni himself says - "It includes everything" - For in the near future, a Supreme Court ruling is expected not only on the issue of enlistment, but also on the issues of ‘who is a Jew’, the Western Wall, Shabbat and more].

We encourage you to sign up and participate in the webinar on Monday, March 8,wherein we will update the participants on the election campaign to be held on March 23 and the likely election results according to the latest polls. We hope it will be attended by representatives of the relevant parties that did not attend last week: Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beiteinu and Yamina.


The Ten Commandments of Yisrael Beiteinu on Religion & State

  1. Abolition of the mass exemption of Yeshiva students on the basis of the claim that “Tora is their vocation” and compulsory enlistment for every 18-year-old into the military or into national civilian service.
  2. Legislation of a civil marriage and divorce law.
  3. Transferring all authority over the opening of businesses and public transportation on the Sabbath to local authorities.
  4. Cancellation of government allocations to yeshiva students.
  5. Abolition of the religious councils.
  6. Core curricular studies as a condition for government support for schools.
  7. Authorizing City Rabbis to establish conversion courts.
  8. Abolition of the Chief Rabbinate's Monopoly on Kashrut certification and reducing costs by increasing competition between kashrut certification entities.
  9. Providing adequate representation for women and other Jewish sectors on the Chief Rabbinical Council.
  10. Returning responsibility over the Rabbinical Courts from the Ministry of Religious Services to the Ministry of Justice.

A glimpse through the eyes of the English media

There is not a day that the media in Israel does not deal with the meeting points Between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular, as well as between religion and politics in the context of the pandemic.

Today, for example, television and other media dealt with the harsh reality wherein thousands of Israelis are "stuck" around the world due to the closure of border crossings to Israel and the closure of the airport, facing financial, health, emotional and other damages. It turns out that according to a personal order from Minister Aryeh Deri, Shas party leader, an exceptional permit was issued for entry into the country for several family members of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who is an associate of the Minister and was previously permitted to go across the Taba border crossing. This, while many others trying to enter Israel are not allowed to do so.

This week, English readers were given a glimpse of what is happening in Israel in this field and the mood of Israelis in the growing tension between religion and state and between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular. We encourage you to read the articles, and we'd love to hear from you.



Israel/Diaspora at a crossroads - Religion,
Law, and Morality in challenging times

WEBINAR 22: Israel & Covid-19


Unique dimensions of Israel's struggle with Covid 19 

What do Israel's responses to the pandemic tell us about Israeli society? How have the power relations between the Knesset and the government -- and between sectors of the population who are resisting government intervention -- impacted the handling of the crisis? How have the courts addressed the challenges posed by the pandemic?


Monday, February 22, 2021 at 12:00 PM Eastern Time [9:00 AM Pacific Time; 7:00 PM in Israel]. 


  • Prof. Rivka Weill, Professor of Law at the Radzyner Law School, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC). In recent years, she was a Visiting Law Professor at Cardozo Law School, University of Chicago Law School, and Yale Law School

Please register for the Zoom webinar at THIS LINK


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