Ultra-Orthodox parties reportedly in talks to form electoral alliance
TV report says Netanyahu backing proposed union between Shas and UTJ in order to ensure large right-wing bloc after elections
The Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties are reportedly in talks about forming a joint slate ahead of the elections in April.
According to Hadashot TV news, the electoral alliance would include current coalition members Shas and United Torah Judaism, which is made up of the Degel HaTorah and Agudath Yisrael parties.
Shas’s electoral base is made up largely of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Middle Eastern countries, while Degal HaTorah and Agudath Israel represent Ashkenazi Jews from the Lithuanian and Hasidic communities, respectively.
The report said the stated goal of the alliance is to mend fences after October’s municipal elections, which saw the parties back rival candidates in a number of local races.
The initiative is being supported by a number of rabbis, among them Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leader of the Lithuanian community who is considered close to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads Shas, the report said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also backed the prospective alliance and offered to mediate between the sides, according to the report, with the aim of forming a sturdy right-wing bloc after the elections.
Once considered a kingmaker in Israeli politics, Shas won 10 Knesset seats or more from 1996 until the 2015 elections, when it dropped to seven seats following the death of its longtime spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Recent polls have put Shas at four to five seats, just above the minimum vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset.
United Torah Judaism is expected to win seven seats in the next elections, one more than its current total.
The Hadashot report followed a number of major political developments since the Knesset voted to disband last week and schedule early elections for April.
Among the more dramatic decisions was Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s breakaway from the national-religious Jewish Home and formation of the New Right party, a move Netanyahu warned could “shatter the right bloc to pieces.”
Although Netanyahu maintains a comfortable lead in polls, his dominance can potentially be threatened by a prospective alliance in the center-left featuring a new party led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz.