Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties in tight spot after Israel election
Powerful political players for years, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties must now reckon with a new force ushered in by voters bent on stripping them of perks they have relied on for decades.
Centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party came a surprise second in Tuesday’s parliamentary election, usurping ultra-Orthodox groups Shas and United Torah Judaism from their long-standing role of kingmakers in coalition negotiations.
Voted in by a frustrated middle-class, Yesh Atid promised to enact an “equal sharing of the burden” — code for curtailing both welfare benefits given to ultra-Orthodox families and an exemption from military service offered to their menfolk.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist Likud-Beitenu party led the field in the election, but he lost a quarter of his parliamentary seats in the process, making it almost impossible for him to ignore the clamor of the center.
“There is a famous joke we (tell) in Israel,” outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN in an interview.
“One third of the country wakes up to work, one third is paying taxes, and one third is serving in the (army) reserves. Unfortunately it is the same one third. This one third told the government yesterday ‘That is it’,” he said.