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Arabs and Haredim: A tale of two minorities

Ittay Flescher
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Published: 11 April 2019

Last updated: 4 March 2024

THE ELECTIONS FOR the 21st Knesset were, on one level, about how minorities respond to persecution. Both Arabs and Haredim feel their way of life is under threat in Israel today. The record  low Arab voter turnout  (44% this election compared to 64% in 2015)  means that for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the next phase of their struggle against racism and inequality will take place mostly outside the Knesset.

For the Haredim, the union between Gantz and their arch nemesis Yair Lapid was the best thing that ever happened to them. It mobilised their base like never before to turn out in high numbers in order to protect their values, traditions and customs. In the Haredi West Bank Settlement of Modiin Ilit, voter turnout was at 84%.

To see the ultra-Orthodox Shas party go from teetering on the electoral threshold a month ago, according to the polls, to winning eight seats on election night is quite incredible.

When one of Shas’s founders, Aryeh Deri, released an advertisement last week ominously warning that a Blue and White-led government would relocate the gay pride parade in Jerusalem to the Kotel and allow pork to be sold in Israel’s malls, many were shocked.

Even though the suggestion was so obviously fake, the sentiment and fear that a Blue and White government would destroy everything that Haredim hold dear was very real.

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The loathing many Haredim feel towards the IDF draft board, the LGBT and Reform communities in Israel over struggles around surrogacy, shabbat and national service is very real.

For most analysts, the feelings of persecuted Haredim are rarely offered to explain election results, but this may be the most important story of this election.

Party leaders such as Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Deputy Health Minister Yaacov Litzman (UTJ), who are both under police investigation at the moment for corruption, would struggle to hold office in Australia.

The Shas leader is facing serious charges of tax evasion and fraud, whilst the UTJ leader is accused of interfering with psychiatrist medical reports in order to assist accused pedophile Malka Leifer.

In a 2015 election debate, there was a moment when the Arab Joint List leader Ayman Odeh reached out to Aryeh Deri and said to him that despite their differing views on security matters, Shas and Hadash shared much in common regarding their economic outlook and desire to heal the historic wrongs inflicted on their sector by previous governments.

He suggested that if the Haredi and Arab parties cooperate, their power to affect change in Israel would be immense. Deri wasn’t interested in the suggestion.

Although most observers see the Israeli elections as a battle between right and left blocs, there is another narrative - about who will support the Arab and Haredi persecuted minorities - poised to leapfrog over the Likud and Blue-White establishment.

If and when that day comes, Israeli politics will never be the same.

Photo: Shas election ad that says “Breaking: The Pride March reaches the Kotel”

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem correspondent for Plus61JMedia. Since moving to Israel in 2018 from Melbourne, where he was a high school teacher for 15 years, Ittay has been collecting stories about the people with whom he shares Jerusalem. He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers to work towards equality, justice, and peace.

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