You Say You Want a Revolution

There is a revolution underway in Israel—an upheaval that has nothing to do with rioting Palestinians, a burgeoning Arab birthrate, or Islamic fundamentalism.

Like the movement that gave birth to the United States, this is a revolution in the name of tradition. Perhaps counterrevolution would be a more precise term. Its leaders are orthodox rabbis whose bearded, Talmud-quoting followers have brought to Israeli politics a fervor associated with Hasidic prayer.

The revolution's opening guns reverberated in the results of last fall's national elections. Four religious parties achieved significant gains in the November balloting. But after weeks of intensive negotiations, a new Likud-Labor coalition formed, and the Haredi (literally, "fearful ones"—those who fear God—as Orthodox Jews in Israel are called) were relegated to junior partner status.

Still, their electoral advances are an indication of growing influence. In 1984, religious parties polled 206,501 votes, less than 10 percent of the total. In 1988, their vote swelled to 334,442, or 15 percent. Their combined representation in the Knesset increased from 12 to 18 seats.

They emerged from the 1988 election with the swing vote in the Knesset, enough to give either of the evenly divided big parties a parliamentary majority. They bargained for power—too much, some would say—and lost. In negotiations with...

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