MK Moshe Gafni
MK Moshe GafniFlash 90

With less than 100 days to go to elections, disputes have broken out in the UTJ party between its current head, MK Moshe Gafni of the Degel HaTorah Lithuanian faction, and the Chassidic Agudat Yisrael faction.

According to years-old agreements, the two factions rotate leadership of the party over election cycles, which should mean that Agudat Yisrael takes the lead in the run-up to elections this winter. However, now that veteran Knesset member Yaakov Litzman has resigned, the leadership of the Agudat Yisrael faction has passed into the hands of Yitzhak Goldknopf, the representative of the Gur Chassidic group, the largest within Agudat Yisrael, leading MK Gafni to protest that a man with no political experience whatsoever should not be leading the party into elections.

Gafni would therefore like to see his own tenure at the head of the party extended for the meantime; furthermore, he wants the 50:50 arrangement between the two factions of UTJ altered to 60:40 in Degel HaTorah's favor, arguing that changes in haredi demographics justify this.

Meanwhile, another dispute is continuing to simmer between Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the spiritual head of the Degel HaTorah faction, and the Belz Chassidic group (represented by MK Yisrael Eichler of Agudat Yisrael) regarding changes made to boys' schools within the Belz Chassidic group, increasing the hours spent studying mathematics and introducing English into the curriculum.

The two factions have run together in elections for years to ensure that both pass the electoral threshold, but disputes are nothing new, and this year haredi politicians have also expressed the concern that votes may "leak" to the Otzma Yehudit party of MK Itamar Ben Gvir, possibly even losing UTJ a seat to the Religious Zionism party with which Ben Gvir is allied.