Opinion: The heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties recognize that their base feels a kinship with the prime minister’s self-promoted image of victim persecuted by the courts, and they are trying to prevent any move to siphon off voters

Benjamin Netanyahu with United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman
Benjamin Netanyahu with United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman


Even Benjamin Netanyahu was surprised when during his 2015 election campaign he was asked not to visit the predominately ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak.

Netanyahu may have been vying for the sector’s votes, but the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties delivered an unmistakable hint that any attempt to target voters directly could compromise a future coalition agreement.

Netanyahu got the message and the next time he visited the town was for a medical procedure at one of the local hospitals, even arriving in a van disguised as a bakery delivery vehicle.

The ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset know their voters well. They realized that the admiration for Netanyahu could hurt them politically and were adamant that they would not allow any votes to be siphoned off by Likud.

The prime minister was also well aware of the favorable feeling towards him from ultra-Orthodox voters, but chose not to risk losing their political representatives as coalition partners.

הרב צבי טאו בהפגנת תמיכה בעד בנימין נתניהו
An ultra-Orthodox man attends a pro-Netanyahu demonstration following the prime minister’s indictment (Photo: Moti Kimchi)


In subsequent campaigns – including those this year – senior Likud members, among them Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, were pressed not to campaign among voters of the Orthodox parties.

But Edelstein refused to back down, claiming no one has ownership of any part of the voting public.

Contrary to common perception, the relationship Netanyahu has with his religious coalition partners is complicated.

The Shas party, which had been reduced considerably last year but had doubled its strength after posting the prime minister’s photograph on their campaign billboards with the message that Netanyahu needs a strong Shas at his side.

 Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader Aryeh Deri
Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader Aryeh Deri (Photo: Emil Salman)


But on the other hand, there is no politician that the ultra-Orthodox parties fear more than Netanyahu, thanks to his efforts to find votes among their constituents. While he was always careful to tell such voters that they should follow the direction of their rabbis, he could need some coercion to agree not to target them.

The 2015 elections followed a coalition government that did not include any ultra-Orthodox members, who felt betrayed by Netanyahu.

At the time he was seen to choose loyalty only when no other option presents itself.

That coalition legislated laws that the religious parties opposed vehemently including a mandated school curriculum that was to include basic math, science and English, as well as the conscription bill that would force yeshiva students to enlist in the military.

Still, Netanyahu’s standing among ultra-Orthodox voters remained strong.

There was no doubt that Netanyahu remained one of the most influential people in the religious sector. Some attributed his strength to a blessing given by the Lubavitcher Rabbi, head of a large Hassidic sect, others say his strength stems from being seen as a successor to former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

הפגנת תמיכה בעד בנימין נתניהו
An ultra-Orthodox man attends a pro-Netanyahu demonstration (Photo: Moti Kimchi)


Most though say the prime minister’s self-promoted public image as a victim, an outsider and always persecuted, awakened in them a feeling of kinship.

Whatever the reason, No one disputed the fact that there was and still is great admiration for Netanyahu among those voters.

Still, contrary to popular belief, the partnership between Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties has been a result of political interests.

When Likud was in need of ultra-Orthodox support, the prime minister knew how to tie them to his parliamentary bloc, but when he thought he could do without them, he knew how to cast them aside.

The ultra-Orthodox parties for their part were aware of their supporters’ admiration for the premier and could not walk away from him. He has become an integral part of their political discourse.

Even as he fights for his professional life, facing prosecution and the courts, Netanyahu is still seen as a champion of the ultra-Orthodox community.

The courts have been branded enemies among these voters, with thousands turning out to demonstrate against the Supreme Court decisions they believed threaten their way of life.

Despite any ideological differences, Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox are standing shoulder to shoulder, fighting together.

As reported by Ynetnews