A secularist organization is demanding that State Attorney Yehuda Weinstein open an investigation into a rumor that yeshiva students of voting age are being “bribed” not to participate in the upcoming elections in Israel.
According to reports, a wealthy patron of the Satmar Hassidic sect in the U.S. has offered NIS 100,000 to institutions that “ban” students from voting. The institutions would get the money several months after the election, with the patron writing a check directly to the institution if it could verify that none of the students voted.
Satmar Hassidim are generally ideologically opposed to the existence of Israel as an independent Jewish state. The former Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, wrote several books blasting Zionism and banning his followers from having anything to do with the institutions of the state. However, since his death in 1979, large numbers of Satmar Hassidim living in Israel are said to have softened their stance somewhat, with some taking part in local and even national elections. The new offer is seen as an attempt to discourage that continuing softening, observers said.
Nevertheless, said Uri Regev of the Hidush organization, offering money to individuals or institutions to vote a certain way – or not vote at all – is illegal according to Israeli law, and he wants Weinstein to investigate the matter. “It is the right of Satmar Hassidim to boycott the elections, but they cannot bribe others to do so,” Regev said. “It must be made clear that they, too, are subject to Israeli law.”
Regev is currently director of Hidush, which considers itself a “watchdog” for Israel's religious establishment. Regev is the former head of the Israeli Reform movement.