UTJ in crisis

Haredi split? Degel HaTorah MKs consider breaking up UTJ party, joint run with Shas.

David Rosenberg,

Moshe Gafni (second from left)
Moshe Gafni (second from left)
Yaakov Naumi/Flash90

Evidence emerged this week validating rumors of a possible breakup of the United Torah Judaism party, as tensions between the Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael factions continue to rise.

In April, veiled threats by Degel MKs Uri Maklev and Moshe Gafni provided grist for the rumor mill that the faction, which represents the Lithuanian, non-hasidic Ashkenazi haredi population, was considering a split with the hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction. The two have run together on the joint UTJ list in every election for the past two decades.

In recent weeks, Degel representatives have demanded the proportion of Knesset Members allotted within the UTJ list be equal – with both factions receiving three of the total six seats the party won in 2015. At present, Degel holds only two, compared to four for Agudah.

Degel MKs have also fiercely attacked their Agudah counterparts over their ties with rival parties.

On Wednesday, BeHadrei Haredim revealed the first tangible evidence to verify claims of a possible split. In a video recorded on Sunday, Maklev and Gafni openly discuss a joint run with the Sephardic haredi party, Shas, warning that Degel members should refrain from criticizing Shas.

“Right now we absolutely must not badmouth Shas.” Gafni told Maklev. “I don’t know who we’ll run with in the next elections, so we have to keep our options open.”

Beit Shemesh mayor Moshe Aboutol, a Shas member, was also present during the conversation. Following Gafni’s bombshell revelation, Aboutol asked whether the Degel MK meant local elections, or elections for the Knesset.

“Knesset elections,” Gafni responded.

On Wednesday Gafni spoke publicly on the matter, revealing in an interview to Mishpacha magazine that the more than 20-year partnership with Agudah could be coming to an end.

“My feeling is that our cooperation with Agudah has ended. There is a young generation in Degel HaTorah that is no longer willing to accept the unfair and twisted arrangement with [Agudah].”

“We have a wide range of options available [to move forward] politically. It’s no secret that our relations with Shas are the best they’ve ever been, but there are many other options [as well].”




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