Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev (Photo: Knesset)
Earlier today, two bills were presented for first reading by the Israeli parliament, both of which attempt to prevent gay parades from being held within the city of Jerusalem, by amending the municipality's Basic Law from above. One parliamentarian, MK Nissim Ze'ev of Shas (about which more below) condemned the homosexual community for "carrying out the self-destruction of Israeli society and the Jewish people" (Ha'aretz).
Much of our last discussion of the gay pride parade in Jerusalem focused on the opposition of the "ultra-Orthodox" or haredim, as they are called in Hebrew. I realize that for people less familiar with Israeli society and the Jewish world, there is bound to be some confusion about which particular groups this term encompasses. Hence, I hope that those who understand will excuse the rather long excursus on Israel's political and religious landscape that follows.
Until relatively recently, the term "haredim" ("trembling ones") referred almost exclusively to the various black-clad Hasidic and "Lithuanian" groups (Note: the term "Lithuanian," refers to those who identify with opponents of the Hasidic movement; the division between hasidim and their opponents dates to the late 18th century), most of whom either rejected the Zionist state or had an ambivalent attitude toward it best described as "non-Zionism." The main political organ of these groups is the United Torah Judaism party, which is a coalition of the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael and the Lithuanian Degel ha-Torah, and has 6 seats in the Israeli Knesset.
In the past three decades, we have also seen an increase in another kind of "haredi" or ultra-Orthodox population, which has found its political expression in Shas, a party which derives its guidance from rabbinic luminaries of various mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) communities. This party, however, also draws much of its support from "traditional" and even secular mizrahim, having marketed itself as a party opposing Ashkenazi hegemony in Israel. It currently has 12 representatives in the Knesset, and is a member of the governing coalition.
In addition to these two groups, another constituency involved in the opposition against the gay pride parade was the national-religious or "knit kippah" camp. This sector, which is today identified as the ideological backbone of the settlement movement, is religious (sometimes "ultra-Orthodox") but embraced the state (at least until the evacuation of settlements from Gaza) and interprets the Zionist movement in religious, messianic terms. Its main political organ today is the National Union - National Religious Party, which has 9 seats.
When I watched the documentary about the Jerusalem gay pride parade discussed earlier, I noticed that the approaches used by these various sectors differ significantly from one another. For example, the national religious camp used language much closer to that of the Christian right in America, as I think I noted earlier. Shas, it seems to me, is using more populist language that appeals to "tradition." I think it is not an accident that the haredi parties are keeping a low profile, and that they are probably not going to become involved in this. They do not see this as an issue to gain votes or to mobilize the ultra-Orthodox. Their caution also reflects a distrust of modern party politics and mass organization (i.e., democratization).