The ultra-Orthodox party, which has drifted far to the right over the past several years, reaches out to the all the Israelis who are not middle-class – which is to say, the majority.
Shas, the party founded by the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and today led by Rabbi Aryeh Deri, is usually seen as the narrowly-sectorial party of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox. Even the kingmaker status it had enjoyed for nearly two decades is usually (and rather haughtily) ascribed by commentators to their ability to march a docile and obedient religious minority to the polling stations, rather than to broad popular appeal. But the launch of the new election campaign this past weekend signals a strike both against this traditional image – and against the middle-class focus that will likely be a key feature of the 2015 general election campaign:
The message of the ad should be painfully obvious to any of the several parties pretending to the banner of social justice, yet Shas is the first to say it outloud: yes, the middle class has had it tough, but no, they are not remotely the worst off. The ad also throws down the gauntlet to the big parties in terms of representation: the characters in the ad are Mizrahi, Ethiopian and Ashkenazi, half men and half women – much more than can be said for the candidate slates of all the other parties. Even more crucial for a party that many secular Israelis identify closely with the religious/secular divide is the fact that not one character in the ad is ultra-Orthodox. The target audience is obviously broader than anything any ultra-Orthodox party tried before.
The ad’s inclusivity is particularly startling when one looks at the other parties hoping to swoop in on the social-economic protest vote. Professor Yossi Yona, the only Mizrahi candidate to run in the Labor party’s primaries (the party is the main contender for the social justice vote) reached number 10 on the list, but was pushed down to a nearly-unelectable number 23, since the kibbutz movement automatically reserves several spots on the list.
The kibbutz movement is still one of the main pillars of the party, which doesn’t so much excuse Yona’s demotion as much as aggravates it. Kibbutzim constitute the core of the increasingly marginalized, old elite that many associate with Labor, and are one of the reasons the...Read More