Wednesday, December 24, 2008

UTJ shake-ups

You know, there was a time when I paid more attention to Israeli politics than American ones. But that time has ended, and I rarely bother to post about the goings-on of the Knesset these days.

On the other hand, I always try to follow developments with my buddies in UTJ. Since lately Kadima, Likud and Labor have been constantly on the verge of collapsing in on themselves and devolving into cannibalistic feeding frenzies, UTJ decided, "Why not us?" The first salvo in this epic battle was launched by Meir "the Beard" Porush when he announced his campaign for mayor of Jerusalem. Supposedly, Porush had the backing of everyone in the Israeli Haredi community. Everyone, that is, except for Ger, the largest sect in the country. The Gerrer rebbe (and his top politico, Yaakov Litzman) were pissed about Porush endorsing non-UTJ candidates in previous elections and not working hard enough to get enough money (all of it) earmarked for Ger schools. Ger wasn't alone; Porush's Degel Ha-Torah colleagues weren't very excited about his running for the post, either:

The first to come out openly against Porush is MK Avraham Ravitz of Degel Hatorah, who does not conceal his disgust with the man, a scion of the powerful Porush family. Jerusalem, he says, "deserves a mayor who intends to run the city fairly, for all its residents, one for whom Jerusalem, rather than he or his family, is of primary importance."


The result? Tons of fun mayhem. There was plenty of press squabbling and name-calling, along with Ger calls to boycott Porush and support anybody else, but it turns out that was just the pre-game show. Ger eventually supported the secular candidate, Barkat, over Porush, and convinced a few other sects to follow along (including, according to some reports, Porush's own Boyaner rebbe). There were also some scuffles on election day in Haredi neighborhoods.

Immediately following the election, there were amusing descents into violence.

First, Litzman was attacked in a Slonimer shul in Mea Shearim. The strangest thing here was seeing the different ways news wires could mangle the term "kugel."

Yediot: "Liztman was kicked, pushed, cursed and pelted with kugel pies. "

Middle East Online: "
According to witnesses, young ultra-Orthodox pelted the 60-year-old rabbi with cakes and threw his black fur hat on the floor."

Jpost: "The embattled Litzman, a representative of the Gur Hassidim within the haredi United Torah Judaism Party, was allegedly cursed, pushed and kicked before being pelted with kugel shortly after arriving at a family celebration"

But at least the thugs are even-handed. The next day some people beat up Porush's son. (History repeating itself?)

Sadly, even after hats have been cleaned and brusies have faded, bruised egos take a much longer time to heal. Following the election debacle, the entire Haredi political system is squabbling with itself:

First, Agudat Yisrael is feuding:

[There is a] major rift between two major groups making up Agudat Yisrael.

On one side is Shlomei Emunei Yisrael, headed by Porush, which is made up of a patchwork of small-to-medium-size hassidic sects usually named after the East European towns where they were founded. Some of the sects represented by Porush include Arloi, Slonim, Karlin-Stolin, Seret-Viznitz, Sadigora, Belz and Boston, one of the few hassidic groups named after an American city.

Pitted against Porush's Shlomei Emunei is the Gerer hassidic sect, the country's largest. Until the recent confrontation, Gur, under the aggressive leadership of Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, effectively controlled Agudat Yisrael. Now Shlomei Emunei and Gur are waging a power struggle.

Some are claiming that the election debacle will be the eventual death of Ger's control of Agudat Yisrael. Hope you're happy, Porush! Does your beard's ego know no shame?

But there's more. Senior Degel head, Avraham Ravitz, announced a couple of weeks after the election that he was quitting politics, though he would still stay on as Degel chair. This leaves the top Degel position open for Moshe Gafni, who has been chomping at the bit for some time.

And then yet more developments- Degel and Agudat announced they were splitting again- this would be for the third time since 2004. As before, most of the disagreement is hovering over who gets the sixth slot.

In response, some Gerrer movers and shakers have tried to get the rebbe to can Litzman, but apparently he's not interested. Also, Agudat is now apparently considering letting Belz finally have another turn in the Knesset. How nice of them.

Finally, in case Porush has a sudden change of heart about sticking with UTJ New and Improved Agudat Yisrael "half the Knesset representation with half the fat", he will be happy to know there's another party willing to offer him a political home:
Far-right activists Baruch Marzel and Rabbi Shalom Wolpe yesterday heralded the establishment of a new political party, Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (Our Land of Israel), which will vie for seats in the upcoming Knesset elections. Marzel and Wolpe said they have already put out feelers to MKs Aryeh Eldad and Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) about a possible merger with the new party.

Wolpe also said that if Meir Porush declines to run as a member of United Torah Judaism, his new faction "would be more than happy to accept him."

Awesome, the latest crazy attempt by Marzel to get anywhere near the Knesset! You can tell they're serious because of the other people they've invited in. Clearly this is a very exclusive club.

Now Meir, as your agent I think you should carefully consider all offers...


Rafi G said...

I did not know this last invitation. That is great! I think he should accept.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

The funny thing is that apparently the Pollard family has actually explicitly told Marzel and Wolpe to leave him out of their campaign. I don't see how Pollard's situation could get much worse, but I think it's interesting that his family thinks public connections with quasi-Kachniks do him no favors.

It will be interesting to see if they honor the request.