Agudat Israel (Hebrew, "Association of Israel")
AGUDAT ISRAEL (Hebrew, "Association of Israel")
A Jewish ultraorthodox movement founded in 1912 in Katowice, Poland, Agudat Israel was at first a conglomerate of currents, ranging from extreme hostility toward Zionism to a more or less explicit recognition of the religious value inherent in the nationalism advocated by the Zionists. In 1922 the Labor element of the movement seceded to found Poʿalei Agudat Israel. Once it became a religious political party, Agudat Israel refused to join the Labor coalitions in power between 1953 and 1976. In 1977 the party decided to support Menachem Begin's right-wing government, which enabled it to have a number of its demands met, all of them of a religious nature. In the elections of 1981, backed up financially by the Lubavitch movement, Agudat Israel won four seats in the Knesset.
Two years later, a split in the party between Sephardi and Ashkenazi members gave rise to a new political formation, the SHAS (Sephardi Torah Guardians) Party. In 1988 a second splintering led to the creation of another religious party, Degel ha-Torah. In the December Knesset elections, Agudat Israel won five seats. With two other religious parties, SHAS and the National Religious Party, it joined the government coalition formed by the Likud and the Labor Party. In 1990 a third splintering of the party resulted in the creation of a new religious organization, Geulat Israel. In November, Agudat Israel joined the government of Yitzhak Shamir, thereby allowing him to consolidate his position in the Knesset with 64 seats of the 120. In exchange, Shamir committed his government to support various proposals in the Knesset for a stricter application of religious laws. However, in the elections of 1992, the party was able to keep only two seats.
In the elections of May 1996, Agudat Israel joined the parliamentary group United Torah Judaism and successfully supported the candidacy of Benjamin Netanyahu. On 18 June, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed one of the principal leaders of Agudat Israel, Rabbi Menachem Porush, deputy minister for housing. As of 2004, the principal leaders of the party are Menachem Alter, Zeev Feldmann, Shlomo Grinberg, Schmuel Halpert, Menachem Porush, and Avraham Verdiger. In the 2003 elections, United Torah Judaism (the coalition of Agudat Israel and Degel ha-Torah) won five seats.