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


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy