ISRAEL AND THE HAREDI DRAFT ISSUE: THE LEFT’S CHUTZPA & MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Contents

Livni’s Haredi Chutzpa

The chutzpa of former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni knows no bounds. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week, she slammed the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “selling the state to the ultra-Orthodox.”

Haredi draft bill: A historic missed opportunity

The breakdown between Likud and Kadima over drafting Haredi ultra-Orthodox represented the loss of a historic opportunity for Israel to unite the nation and rescue a significant and growing sector of Israeli society from a life of poverty and ignorance.

 

The Quiet Haredi revolution

With the public storm over the Plesner Committee’s recommendations, it seems that, under the surface, the Haredi street is starting to wage an internal battle over its image.

 

On Topic Links

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Livni’s Haredi Chutzpa

David M. Weinberg

Israel Hayom, Aug 10, 2012

 

The chutzpa of former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni knows no bounds. In an interview to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week, she slammed the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “selling the state to the ultra-Orthodox.” Likud has “granted the Haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the State of Israel,” she accused.

 

What a grand historical lie! What an inversion of the truth! Just the opposite is true. It was the political Left in Israel that in the 1990s handed the keys to Israel’s Jewish character over to the Ultra-Orthodox, in order to purchase Haredi support for Oslo I and II. It was the Left’s sellout to the Haredim, for the sake of “peace with the Palestinians,” that brought us Haredi control over the official State Rabbinate, Rabbinical Courts, Municipal Religious Councils, Kashrut agencies, and more. It was Labor and Kadima, not Likud, which “granted the Haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the State of Israel.”

 

Let’s go back a bit in history. For more than 40 years, the Religious Zionist (or Mizrachi, or Modern Orthodox) community in Israel sought to serve as a bridge between the religious and secular communities in Israel, and acted with the benefit of all Israelis in mind. Its political party, the National Religious Party (NRP), was the “natural partner” in every Labor-led government from Ben-Gurion to Rabin and Peres.

 

Religious Zionism served as the patron of Israel’s state religious character, negotiating the preservation of basic Shabbat and kashrut observation in the public sphere, and establishing the chief rabbinate, the army rabbinate, the religious councils and courts and other cultural and statutory institutions.

 

In general, this community’s rabbis and religious court judges were loving, moderate and accommodating in their approach and demeanor. They invested modern Zionism and Israeli patriotism with religious, spiritual and even messianic meaning. They served in the Israeli army, celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, and believed that they were the servants of all Israelis – secular and religious.

 

With the establishment of Gush Emunim after the Yom Kippur War, this community also became politically right wing and the spearhead of the settlement enterprise. With the rise of Likud, it became a regular coalition partner for the Begin and Shamir governments.

 

Haredi “stinking maneuvers” around Religious Zionism and in support of the political Left began in 1990 with then-Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who attempted to bring down the unity government led by Prime Minister Shamir and install a Peres government instead. The move failed, but the die was cast for a grand deal between the Left and the Haredim.

 

When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party brought the Oslo I accords to the Knesset for approval in September 1993, he relied on Haredi votes, among others, to push the accord through over NRP objections. This was even more apparent in September 1995, when Labor managed to eke the Oslo II accord through Knesset by a hairbreadth, literally buying votes with Mitsubishi sedans and purchasing outright the backing of the Ultra Orthodox by promising them dominion over the NRP’s state religious empires.

 

Similarly, the disastrous disengagement from Gaza – which expelled 9,000 mostly Religious Zionist men, women and children from their homes and destroyed their synagogues, yeshivot and communities – was rammed through the Knesset by Kadima, with the support of the three Ultra Orthodox factions.…

 

In the following years, Ultra Orthodox parties and their rabbis conducted a slow but inexorable conquest of the rabbinate and religious courts. Ultra Orthodox candidates defeated Religious Zionist candidates for the post of Chief Rabbi, with the backing of Labor and Kadima. Livni’s closest ally, Haim Ramon, personally presided over the election of two Haredi Chief Rabbis. The religious court bench too was populated almost exclusively with Haredi judges, again with the backing of secular politicians from the Left. As Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert marched in lock-step with the Haredim of that city, paving the way for the election of a Haredi mayor as his successor.

 

The NRP and its offshoots screamed bloody murder, but no-one was listening. The deal was clear to all: Haredi support (or abstention) for the Left’s Palestinian diplomatic escapades in exchange for Haredi predominance in state religious institutions. Thousands of state jobs – kashrut inspectors, municipal rabbis, judges and more – went to the Haredim.

 

In less than a decade, the deleterious results began to show: City rabbis who began demanding extreme gender separation requirements in municipal public events and public spaces, burial societies instituting strictures in funeral proceedings (especially regarding the role of women), courts applying stringencies in matters of marriage and divorce and especially conversion…

 

Indeed, someone did “sell the state to the ultra-Orthodox” and “grant Haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the State of Israel.” But it wasn’t the Likud and it wasn’t Netanyahu. It was Livni and her colleagues. They created the out-of-control Haredi cartel which today has a stranglehold on our national religious bureaucracy and our discourse on religion and state. Now they are, perhaps, sorry.

 

Despite the fact the Haredi parties are part of his governing coalition, Netanyahu has supported the Tzohar Law (which would decrease the influence in marriage issues of extremist Haredi municipal rabbis and religious councils), boosted hesder yeshivot and Religious Zionist mechinot, and advanced some young and more modern Religious Zionist rabbinical candidates into public posts.

 

However, there is a long way to go. Rolling back the Haredi juggernaut so callously and carelessly created by Livni and her Labor-Kadima predecessors in their blind zeal to advance Oslo-era peace politics – will take a generation or more. (Top)

 

Haredi Draft Bill: A historic Missed Opportunity

Isi Liebler

Word from Jerusalem, July 20, 2012

 

The breakdown between Likud and Kadima over the haredi draft represented the loss of a historic opportunity for Israel to unite the nation and rescue a significant and growing sector of Israeli society from a life of poverty and ignorance.

 

Alas, my optimism was sadly misplaced that on this issue our politicians would rise to the occasion and find a reasonable compromise. That a coalition of Zionist parties failed to reach an accommodation is a reflection of the appalling lack of responsibility and ongoing inclination by our politicians to promote their short-term political ambitions above the national interest.

 

Whereas the initial blunder was due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impulsive dissolution of the Plesner committee, the failure for the ultimate breakdown rests entirely on Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz who, it would appear, only entered the government to stave off immediate elections but had no intention of agreeing to the compromise proposed by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

 

Ya’alon, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, is deeply concerned and committed to reforming the haredi enlistment situation.

 

What makes the political shenanigans by Yohanan Plesner, the Kadima-appointed head of the committee, particularly outrageous, was that only two months ago, he had endorsed the very same formulation proposed by Ya’alon. Plesner had then displayed awareness of the need to introduce the reforms gradually, avoid draconian penalties and act with compassion to avoid societal disruptions and deny haredi extremists the opportunity to portray themselves as martyrs. The proposals included both financial incentives and penalties.

 

Plesner was also aware that the IDF could not possibly absorb huge numbers of haredi recruits overnight, and special arrangements would be required to accommodate their lifestyle. Time was also required to ensure that haredim opting for national service would be engaged in constructive work, or chaos would prevail.

 

Alas, Ya’alon soon recognized that the talks were heading for a breakdown and that he was confronting populist demagoguery based on haredi bashing rather than genuine interlocutors seeking a solution.

 

“I went into the issue at the beginning of last week thinking it would be historic process, but realized by the middle of the week that it was a political process,” he said. “We cannot declare war on a whole section of the population … When I realized I was facing political calculations rather than ethical values, I realized this would not end well.” Ya’alon also accused Plesner of seeking to put haredi draft dodgers in jail, saying this would be utterly counterproductive.

 

While Ya’alon’s recommendations were not revolutionary, they reflected the need to alter the status quo and increasingly bring haredim not only into the IDF but also into the workforce. They were also geared towards minimizing societal upheavals and civil strife — which is vital with Israel facing so many external and other domestic challenges.

 

The Kadima refusal to proceed was unconscionable. It fully realizes that the consequence of its actions is to reinstate the haredi political parties with excessive leverage and an ability to veto reforms.

Ironically, Kadima will be the biggest loser from its own irresponsible behavior. Mofaz’s brief moment of leadership has passed and his party will in all likelihood be decimated at the polls.

 

Netanyahu, who was at the peak of his career prior to Kadima joining the government, is now likely to face populist attacks accusing him of caving in to haredi pressure, which could cost him votes. Much will depend on whether he can convince Israelis that he has not capitulated and still intends to genuinely pursue legislation which ensures that haredim will both be drafted and incorporated into the work force.

 

This will be difficult with Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Lieberman exploiting populist sentiment by demanding a draft of all 18-year-olds, despite being fully aware this is totally unfeasible. And the short-sighted haredi politicians are unlikely to take advantage of the fact that this is the best deal they could ever get and will probably continue demanding that the status quo be maintained.

 

The main winners will be Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich and Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid, both of which will be able to exploit the situation and undermine confidence in the larger parties.

 

On the other hand, Netanyahu is fortunate that even at this low moment in his political standing, Israelis have no one else to whom to turn and all polls indicate that he is still preferred as prime minister above any other candidate. Even Ha’aretz editor Aluf Benn, no friend of the prime minister, wrote, “There is still no distinct rival who can compete with Netanyahu for leadership of the country.”

 

In the meantime, the clock is ticking. Arab and haredi children now comprise 50 percent of registrants at Israeli elementary schools. Haredi children are denied the rudimentary skills required to earn a livelihood, causing many of them to rely on state welfare to sustain them throughout their lives. This is a social and economic burden which Israel cannot maintain without facing an economic meltdown and a major deterioration in its global status.…

 

This is the challenge Netanyahu faces. If he supports the Ya’alon proposals, legislation will provide haredim with the option to enroll in either the IDF or national service between the ages of 18 and 22 and receive financial incentives. If by the age of 26, they are not enrolled, they will face financial penalties. The proposal allows for a limited number of genuine full-time Torah scholars to remain engaged in yeshiva learning. National service would also be introduced for Israeli Arabs.

 

In light of the current alignments in the Knesset, this may prove to be impossible. But Netanyahu must convince the electorate that he is determined to move in this direction. Failure would mean that despite the absence of an alternative political leader, voters could severely punish him at the forthcoming elections and even bring about a dramatic change in the entire political constellation. (Top)

 

The Quiet Haredi Revolution

David Zoldan

Ha’aretz, Aug. 8, 2012

 

With the public storm over the Plesner Committee’s recommendations, it seems that under the surface, the Haredi street is starting to wage an internal battle over its image. On one side is the traditional conservative faction, which wants to keep things as they are and opposes modernization even within permitted boundaries.

 

On the other side is an increasing number of those who advocate involvement in all aspects of life in Israel. The accomplishments of this group, such as the Haredi Nahal battalion, the Haredi Campus at Ono Academic College and the establishment of six yeshiva high schools, are indications of the changing tides.

 

Now, the young rebels seek to translate their hitherto suppressed aspirations into political power. The Haredi Tov movement, which advocates the integration of Torah study with work, education and military service, and whose members are described mockingly as “the blue-shirts,” is gathering strength.

 

For major Haredi elected officials such as Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman, who represent the conservative Haredi establishment, this struggle is much more significant than the silly argument over the Haredi draft. For them, the real danger is the rise of an alternative to the United Torah Judaism faction, which could pull the rug out from under their feet and prove that there is legitimate leadership in the Haredi community besides their own.…

 

In a certain sense, the popularity of this movement of young Haredim draws its strength from simple human motives. In Haredi society of the 21st century, more and more calls are being made for change and for a deep examination of the community’s priorities vis-à-vis the outside world, which is changing at an extremely rapid pace.…

 

Today, almost no alternative exists for young Haredim who choose anything other than the conventional yeshiva track. In order to create such alternatives, the demand is growing to include secular studies (those subjects that are called “core subjects,” censored to a certain extent in order to prevent conflict with Haredi values) in the curriculum.

 

Young members of the Haredi sector believe that the horizons of their education can be broadened and a variety of professional options opened to them that will save them and their families from poverty and its accompanying pressures. They also agree that anyone who does not see Torah study as their main purpose in life, or is not capable of staying in yeshiva indefinitely, should be drafted. They know that military service not only gives them opportunities in schooling, higher education and jobs, it also helps them build bridges between the Haredi world and the secular world – bridges that many young Haredi people are interested in building.…

 

….For the first time, a group of young people is getting up and saying for all to hear: “We will keep studying Torah and observing religious precepts, but at the same time we will make personal decisions that are appropriate for our lifestyle, ourselves and our families. Being drafted into the IDF is not a default choice but instead a worthy act in and of itself. Just give us the right to choose.”(Top)

 

[David Zoldan, a Haredi journalist and the author of the book The Yarmulke and the Helmet: The Story of the First Ultra-Orthodox Army Unit, was a member of the first group to serve in the Nahal Haredi battalion.]

 

ON TOPIC