Monday, June 07, 2021
In Israel the Ultra-Orthodox Face a Loss of Power
JERUSALEM — Still reeling from bearing the brunt of Israel’s coronavirus pandemic, then a deadly stampede at a religious festival, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews now face the prospect of losing the power they have wielded in government — a setback that could relax some of the strictures on life in Israel.
The heterogeneous coalition that is emerging to replace the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spans the Israeli political spectrum from left to right, including secular parties, modern Orthodox politicians from the religious Zionist camp and even a small Arab, Islamist party.
Missing are the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, a Hebrew term for those who tremble before God. Their political representatives have sat in most, though not all, governments of Israel since the late 1970s, when the right-wing Likud party upended decades of political hegemony by the state’s socialist founders.
Over the years, the two main Haredi parties have forged a tight alliance with Mr. Netanyahu, the Likud leader, and leveraged their role as linchpins in a series of governing coalitions. There, they have wielded what many critics view as disproportionate power over state policy that became apparent as they successfully fought or, in the case of some sects, simply refused to follow pandemic restrictions.
The influence and official privileges of the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 13 percent of the population, have created resentment among mainstream Israelis and alienated many Jews abroad who practice less stringent forms of Judaism. The ultra-Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate, the state religious authority, dominates official Jewish marriage, divorce and religious conversions and does not recognize the legitimacy of Reform or Conservative rabbis.
Haredi politicians promote a conservative social agenda that opposes civil marriage, gay rights, and work or public transportation on the Sabbath, often blocking a civil rights agenda held dear by many members of the new coalition. They support an independent education system that focuses on religious studies and largely shuns secular education for boys.
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