MKs Maklev, Gafni, Litzman
MKs Maklev, Gafni, Litzman Flash 90

The United Torah Judaism party – a joint list of two Ashkenazi haredi factions – could be headed for a breakup, party officials said Tuesday night.

In the wake of the Zionist Union’s sudden split between its member parties – Labor and Hatnuah – members of UTJ’s Degel Hatorah faction say the haredi party is weighing a similar breakup.

On Sunday evening, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a member of the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael, said his faction was in talks with Degel Hatorah to renew their partnership for this year’s Knesset election.

While Degel Hatorah negotiates with Agudat Yisrael, however, officials from Degel say the party is also examining the feasibility of running separately.

Founded in 1988 as a splinter faction from the larger Agudat Yisrael, Degel Hatorah was the brainchild of Rabbi Elazar Shach, who had pushed for the establishment of an independent party to represent the non-Hasidic Lithuanian Ashkenazi haredi community.

The party won two seats in 1988, but with the rising electoral threshold, decided to form a joint list with Agudat Yisrael in 1992. Since then, the two factions have run jointly in every Knesset election, while remaining apart for municipal elections.

According to a report by Behadrei Haredim, however, senior officials in Degel Hatorah are examining the possibility of running without Agudat Yisrael this year.

The party’s regional offices have reportedly been gathering information from last October’s municipal election to assess the total number of Degel voters across the country.

At a meeting last week, senior party officials discussed the viability of a separate Knesset bid.

The party’s spiritual leaders are apparently cautiously backing the possible move, but have insisted that the faction ensure that it has at least 150,000-160,000 voters, under the assumption that the 3.25% minimum threshold will equal some 135,000-140,000 votes.

Sources within Degel Hatorah claimed that the possibility of a separate run was being examined in light of a backlash among some haredi voters from both Degel and Agudah following the October 2018 municipal elections.

The sources said there was concern that the tensions created between the two haredi factions during the municipal elections could discourage some voters from backing a joint list this year.