Chareidi voters cast their ballots in Tuesday’s elections in record-breaking numbers, answering the call of Gedolei Yisrael.
As of Thursday afternoon, the final official tally gave Shas 330,359 votes (8.74 percent of the national total) and United Torah Judaism 195,577 (5.18 percent). Those numbers gave Shas 11 seats and UTJ 7 seats in the Knesset, the highest ever received by UTJ.
In an election in which leftist anti-religious parties made significant gains, the performance of the chareidi parties was a heartening result. Few people believed UTJ could expand from 5 seats in the previous Knesset to 7.
It remains to be seen whether the increased representation will force the prime minister to accede to the demands of chareidi parties, particularly in the battle over the draft for yeshivah bachurim, which threatens the survival of the Torah community. Though Netanyahu has said he wants Shas and UTJ in his government, he seems focused on making changes to the draft system as demanded by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
The new-elected UTJ MKs are Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, Rabbi Moshe Gafni, Rabbi Meir Porush, Rabbi Uri Maklev, Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses, Rabbi Yisrael Eichler and Rabbi Yaakov Asher. The latter will vacate his post as mayor of Bnei Brak, and the City Council will choose a successor.
Rabbi Avraham Yosef Leizerson, chairman of Chinuch Atzmai, told Hamodia that the electoral victory was the product of extraordinary unity in following the leadership of Gedolei Yisrael, putting aside political and personal differences for the sake of Torah. “We must learn from this that such unity is the key to our success in defending the Torah way of life in Eretz Yisrael,” he said.
Rabbi Leizerson spoke of the thrilling sight of thousands of volunteers from all walks of chareidi life working together in the various campaign offices around the country in the days leading up to the election. It was this spirit of peace and unity that merited the blessings of Hashem, he said.
In addition to organizational zeal, professional expertise also played a part in the electoral victory.
Rabbi Simcha Shtitzberg, a UTJ councilor in Bnei Brak and vice chairman of the district election committee, was one of the experts who helped ensure that everyone who wished to vote would be able to and that every vote cast would be counted.
Rabbi Shtitzberg told Hamodia of the overwhelming enthusiasm that swept through the chareidi public. People began calling him from 6:30 in the morning on Election Day with their queries, and in the course of the day he received almost 800 calls.
Election Day posed its share of challenges. It was inevitable that activists from other parties would attempt to disrupt and reduce the chareidi vote with various ploys.
A Meretz activist in the Ramat Elchonon neighborhood of Bnei Brak contributed to long voting lines by insisting on an exaggerated, drawn-out scrutiny of identity cards. Rabbi Shtitzberg showed him the clause in the election bylaws stating that only the secretary of the polling station committee may invalidate voter credentials.
“You are violating the law. I will lodge a complaint with the police,” he told him.
However, the man persisted even when the chairman of the election committee instructed him to stop. Finally, a representative of Meretz rebuked him and sent him on his way.
In another case, a dispute arose about whether a foreign citizen who was not eligible to vote could serve as a poll monitor. Rabbi Shtitzberg settled the matter, citing a clause in the election law that provides for a person 17 years old to be a monitor even though only citizens at least 18 years old are eligible to vote. Therefore, ineligibility does not disqualify a person from being a monitor.
Voters emerging from behind the partition where the table with the paper ballots rested proudly showed others the UTJ “Gimmel” ballot they were about to cast.
Objections were raised to this scene, which repeated itself many times on Tuesday.
But it was pointed out that even Prime Minister Netanyahu did this (with a Likud ballot, of course), and images of him showing off his ballot were banned from Israeli media as campaign propaganda in the last week of the election. However, pictures of Netanyahu’s family casting their Likud votes were permitted.