Over the past few weeks, I have attended a number of the social justice movement protests. I came to these rallies not necessarily as a participant, but rather as an observer. However, tonight was different. Tonight I attended the rally held in favor of an equal burden in army service as a participant – and I attended with my wife and two of my children.
There were clear differences between tonight’s rally and all the previous rallies I attended in the past year. First, though the crowd was primarily young (like most of the rallies), this time, (with my greying hair), I did not feel out of place. Many of those in my age cohort, and older, were in attendance. Second, and most important, the goals of this rally were clear: Support for the draft for everyone. This statement translates, in direct support for the Plessner committee’s report– Not as a starting point of negotiations, but as bill to be passed by the Knesset. To many at the rally, the Plessner committee had already made too many concessions to the Haredi community. Despite this fact, they were willing to accept the Plessner recommendations as the best we can get.
The organizers, who had planned tonight’s demonstration a week ago, chose the Israel Museum Plaza as a venue instead of the larger Rabin Square, since they expected only 3-5,000 people. The space was clearly inadequate for the 50,000 protestors reported to have been there. Speakers covered the spectrum of Israeli society– from a representative of the Haredi world, who called on all Haredim to serve (he expects his son to serve); to an Arab Muslim women from Acre, whose oldest child recently completed his service, and whose daughter just signed “Keva” (when you agree to additional army service, in order to become and officer), and whose youngest is about to engage in a year of service before he begins his army service. She called for new generations of Arab leaders in Israel who would support the universal service for Arab youth, and end their role as second-class Israeli citizens. Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet, also spoke. Former Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi was received extremely warmly when he saluted the crowd.
So what does this mean? A week ago I wrote an article entitled: “Netanyahu: hero or coward?“. For most of the past week Netanyahu has been the Coward. He disbanded the Plessner committee and did all he could to bury the results. Netanyahu clearly did not read my column, otherwise he would have realized that by doing so, he would be forced to participate in early elections– after taking an incredibly unpopular position, supporting the position of the Haredim, over the position of rest of the country. Now Netanyahu is desperately trying to find a way out. He wants to pass a law that will make both groups happy. This goal is impossible. Any replacement of the Tal Law that is acceptable to the Haredim, will be a sell out. The Israeli public will know it. If Shas stays in the coalition, it will be clear that the rest of the country was sold out, and an historic opportunity to change the direction of our society had been lost.
Last summer was the summer of the social justice movement. They brought to the fore the idea of justice in Israeli society, and began some serious discussions on the matter. One of the greatest injustices in Israel is that for most Israelis parents, when their sons (and to a lesser degree their daughters) turn 18, they have to continually worry if their child will come home safely from the army. That is not the case for Haredi families. Social justice means maintaining an equal burden. There can be no just society without it. Prime Minister Netanyahu should understand that there can only be one course– Accept the Plessner committee’s report. It’s not perfect but it’s a huge step forward. Turn it into law, it will mean a permanent break with your “Haredi partners”, but you will go down in Israeli history as a leader and not just another politician.