In the run up to elections, parties and candidates like to say time is running out. With the firing of the electoral gun, time suddenly becomes a commodity more rare and of higher value than diamonds. In Israel, there is one issue that seems more than any to have the ‘time is running out’ tag applied to it, and that is the conflict with the Palestinians.
Those on the left believe time is running out to reach an agreement, while for the right, there is an urgency to reinforce Judea and Samaria, and reiterate Israel’s sovereignty over the land of our forefathers… and so we debate the issue back and forth along these same axis.
However, this is a distraction. A big one. The reality is that the current Palestinian leadership is not interested in peace with Israel, not even with the maximum that the far-left Meretz could hope to offer. It is a leadership that while it clambers for Israel to concede land, has itself refused to support the notion of two states for two people. Accordingly, Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership will continue to support Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and continue to build in Jerusalem, and has built more homes over the Green Line than his predecessors.
That is the situation. Nothing on the horizon suggests any great shift. So why has this election become – certainly for the right – focused on the issues surrounding the Palestinians? To a great extent, we allow the rejectionist Palestinians to hijack our democratic process when this becomes the center of the debate, resulting in a distraction from internal issues that Israel must solve if it is going to be able to effectively deal with any threats, let alone the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Because there are areas where time is running out. There are problems to which the solutions do remain in our hands entirely. There are issues which, with a stable and strong government, we can address straight away. Not in five years, not in ten years – when it may be too late – but now.
Top of that list is the desperate need to equalize the national burden. All the parties talk about it (well not Shas obviously), but several seem to think there needs to be some sort of waiting period. In fact only Yisrael Beytenu to date have actually written a law on the issue.
Yesh Atid talk about a five year plan to enlist Haredim into the IDF, and just last week the Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett said that rather than joining the military he believes “Whoever is learning Torah should continue to learn Torah, full stop.” This means, in essence, that Bennett would like to retain the status quo on the situation with the Haredim (incidentally doing a 180 degrees about-turn after his recent meetings with the leaders of United Torah Judaism to form a Haredi-Dati bloc).
It seems bizarre to me that anyone who says they seek to bring consumer prices down, provide affordable housing for all and strengthen Israel’s economy, would put off this issue and allow a further deterioration in the status quo. Indeed, on the issue of directly associating contribution to benefits, surely we have waited long enough – arguably over sixty years.
And this is not a question of implementing coercive laws, or forcefully drafting Yeshiva students into the military. Rather the Likud-Beytenu platform is one that incentivizes national contribution. Those who serve the county will benefit, those who don’t will not. Moreover, this is not just about military contribution, nor is it just about Haredim, as notably the Arab population also does not perform national service in any great numbers. There are so many possibilities to contribute that do not involve military service, nor do they preclude continued Torah study. There are hospitals, schools, old age homes, special needs care centers, ‘kupat cholim’, paramedic units and many more opportunities to contribute to society.
Indeed, these are roles that are quite simply acts of kindness, deeds that Shimon HaTzadik is quoted in the Mishna as saying stand alongside Torah and service in the Temple as the foundations of the world.
Those who undertake the required level of service, would receive social benefits.
These moves would greatly improve inter-communal understanding in Israeli society, pave the way for Haredi men to enter the work force, and help build a bond between citizen and state, which is central to unity, duty and shared responsibility.
Ultimately, Israel’s economy can no longer cope with 100 percent benefiting while only 50 percent contribute. The numbers will only deteriorate in the future leaving a terrible legacy to bequeath to our children. Again, for these measures, time is running out. Demographically, parties dead set against these moves, such as Shas, have a growing support base, with much higher birthrates than secular and even Modern Orthodox Israelis. With the merger of Yisrael Beytenu and Likud, we are presented with an historic opportunity to elect a strong party with a majority in its government able to push through this vital legislation and bring about reforms in order to strengthen Israel’s economy, bridge gaps in Israel’s society, and protect the Jewish, democratic values of the state.