Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahim Return to Politics

Dec. 18 2014

Since its establishment in the 1980s, the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox party Shas has become a powerful player in Israeli politics. It presided over a religious revival among Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin and a revolt against the Ashkenazi elite that dominated both Labor and Likud. Now the party has been split in two by its two leading politicians. In effect, argues Haviv Rettig Gur, Shas voters, instead of giving priority to their specific religious concerns, are dividing along conventional left-right lines:

It would be a mistake to believe that the schism in Shas is driven entirely by personality. The egos of the two leaders may shape the way the schism expresses itself, but these are ultimately symptoms. Shas is being rent apart . . . by larger, more substantive disagreements, the very disagreements that are shaping the new political architecture of the Israeli body politic writ large.

Israel’s political system is in chaos. A new order is materializing, and its shockwaves are being felt in nearly every corner of the political map. The left has returned in force as dovish Labor swells in the polls. So has the annexationist right, with a growing base of support for Jewish Home and growing power for the Likud’s right flank. And as the center shrinks, sectoral politics, too, are dramatically responding to the change. The Arab parties are uniting their squabbling lists in a bid to appeal to, and help shape, a more assertive Arab voice and identity.

For some time now, and largely hidden from view, these deep shifts in the public mood have been making themselves felt within the insular world of ultra-Orthodox politics. The change is coming from the street, say Shas officials. In a sense, the [two] ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have represented an anomaly in Israeli politics. Their devotion to their spiritual leaders subsumed the usual divisions that define Israeli politics. . . . Shas was more or less insulated from the left-right divide of mainstream politics. . . .

[But] even Shas, once the bastion of a narrow haredi-centric, Sephardi-focused politics, is cleaving in two along the new fissure that increasingly defines mainstream Israeli politics, a new-old divide between left and right on generations-old questions of economic policy and, of course, what to do with the Palestinians.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Eli Yishai, Israeli politics, Mizrahi Jewry, Ovadiah Yosef, Shas, Ultra-Orthodox

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada