No peace, no shtreimel

When a diplomatic process was on the table, Haredi parties were kingmakers – today they have nothing to offer

Many spokespeople, among them the Haredi commentator Sari Roth, have raised the point that if Benny Gantz were to form a government, he would give the Haredim arrangements and budgets similar to those they received from the present government.

This argument ignores the structural change underway in Israeli politics. The issue of peace – as in, peace agreements with the Arab countries and with the Palestinians – the issue that defined Israeli politics for a generation – has lost its relevance. There is currently no avenue for the pursuit of peace in Israeli politics. The possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians is what gave the Haredim their bargaining power, made them the kingmakers. As Shulamit Aloni famously put it, “For peace I’m even willing to wear a shtreimel.” Although the demands of the Haredim contradicted the civic and liberal views of the Israeli center-left and left, the left was willing to give in to them in exchange for support for a peace agreement. “Peace” was a transcendent value for the Israeli left, outweighing even such values as equality and fairness.

The United Torah Judaism faction meeting in the Knesset. Photo by Shalev Shalom

But in the absence of any diplomatic channels for peace, the Haredim have nothing to offer. On a practical level, if Benny Gantz were to turn to Rabbi Edelstein to secure Haredi coalition participation, he wouldn’t have a government. Avidgor Liberman would leave, as would Labor-Meretz (or what remains of them) and Yesh Atid. Yesh Atid, after all, was founded on a platform of opposition to the Haredim; opposing the Haredim is in their DNA. Furthermore, without a goal such as peace, opposition to the Haredim is one of the organizing principles of the civil-liberal camp. There would, therefore, be no attempt to bring the Haredim into the coalition. As we saw with the “change government,” the center finds Abbas and Ra’am easier to deal with.

If the “market value” of the Haredim has dropped for the left, it will drop for the right as well. The Haredim will have nowhere else to go. What this all means is that, at least in the short and the medium term, Haredi power has peaked, and things won’t go so easily for them in the next rounds of elections. Maybe this explains their current behavior. Their leaders, who have a clear-eyed view of Israeli sociopolitical reality, feel that the Haredim are now at their peak; going forward, they could find themselves in decline. They have therefore taken the aphorism carpe diem or “Seize the day!” to heart. Or, as they say in Yiddish: Chap arein! – “Catch whatever you can!”.

First published by ‘The Times of Israel’.