A golden opportunity for a Haredi-free government. Why isn’t Bibi seizing it?

And the Haredim would be among the chief beneficiaries

The elections are now history, yet Bibi seems to be having a problem cobbling together his idea of a coalition; another weak, tail-wags-the-dog coalition that serves only his own personal agenda, rather than those of Israel’s tax-paying citizens.

Yes, once again the inclusion of Haredi parties rears its ugly head for only one reason, because it suits Bibi to have a weak and splintered coalition in which he can play all ends against the middle. Indeed there are few, if any, law-abiding, IDF-serving, tax-paying Israelis who want anything to do with the Haredi parties, let alone have them become part of government.

We harbor no illusions. Like the Arab parties, Haredi parties do not believe in the State of Israel, and consider its establishment a priori illegitimate. As such, their constituents feel no ethical obligation to partake in its defense, pay taxes, or contribute in any material or moral way to the greater welfare of Israeli society. Indeed, from their religious perspective, there are legitimate grounds for rejecting the idea of a Jewish state prior to the advent of the Messiah.

I would argue that one must respect organizations such as Neturei Karta or the Brisker Yeshiva in Jerusalem which refuse, on principle, to accept any aid from a government they consider fundamentally illegitimate.

The problem is with the greater Haredi community. On the one hand it rejects the validity of Israel, and will not even stand for a moment of silence on our Memorial Days, while on the other hand it is eager to take whatever it can from the normative citizen. Indeed, not only are Haredim ready to seize as much as possible by legislative means, they show few compunctions about taking whatever and whenever they can on an individual basis as well. This includes widespread double-dipping at yeshivas, loading up on free sacks of surplus root vegetables, holding down jobs in the underground economy while pleading poverty in order to receive government assistance and exemptions from municipal taxes, and bringing in gobs of tax-free cash from overseas schnorring expeditions – while ostensibly studying Torah in kollels – in order to purchase apartments for their newly married children.

It is both fascinating and depressing how most Israelis cannot afford to buy homes for themselves, let alone their children, despite being gainfully employed. By contrast, Haredim often show up at doorsteps in mixed neighborhoods with bags of cash offering to buy flats for their kids despite having no visible source of income. If economics is the dismal science, ‘haredinomics’ trumps that by a quantum factor.

Historically, the participation of Haredi parties in Israeli government coalitions has entailed a cynically expedient relationship between a prevailing mainstream Zionist party and Haredi parties that could not care less which party they climb into bed with so long as it is prepared to pay the price for the rubber-stamping of government initiatives that do not impact negatively on Haredi life. Regarding all matters relating to foreign policy and defense, the Haredi parties will follow the party line of the plurality party in power. In exchange they expect billions in direct and indirect cash benefits for Haredi non-taxpayers, and government collusion in finagling ways to exempt Haredim from any military or civic obligations.

The cost to the Israeli taxpayer is staggering. The unequal burden of defending the State falls squarely on non-Haredi shoulders. And while army veterans must pay to go to university or other schools of higher education, Haredim get paid for lifetime enrollment in yeshivas and kolels that have no admissions requirements, no set curricula, no periodic exams, and no attendance records.

As for democracy, the very concept is alien in Haredi society. Not only do rank and file Haredi voters obey the diktats of their grand rabbis and yeshiva heads, but Haredi ministers in government do not make a move without permission – if not outright dictation – from their rebbes and councils of sages.

To argue that the tail is wagging the dog would be a colossal understatement. Israel and Israelis are held hostage by this industry of state-sponsored disparity.

Haredim are hardly the only guilty party. Indeed the plurality party charged with forming a government is vastly more guilty for selling its Zionist soul and picking the pockets of taxpayers in order to enjoy its nominal majority, and a free pass on Haredi-irrelevant legislation – a free pass that costs all of us dearly.

Aside from the massive amount of pork that has to be paid for Haredi cooperation, there is another downside to the way our governments have been crafted, namely an epic dysfunctionalism. Minor political parties – Haredi ones especially – can topple a government at the drop of a black hat. Hence ministerial positions become a game of musical chairs with a constant need to shuffle the deck in order to pander to the shenanigans of coalition partners.

The inclusion of minor parties – and not just Haredi ones – ­means we can never have a solid, Zionist government capable of functioning for the duration of its term, and able to craft meaningful polices that have an opportunity to prove or disprove their worth.

But now we have a golden opportunity for a Haredi-free government, indeed a government immune to the greed and payoffs necessary in order to buy the allegiance of these anti-Zionist groups.

If Likud and Blue and White – in a shared act of national integrity – would form a coalition with an overwhelming majority of 71 seats we would have a government that could govern, free of the extortion to which we’ve all been subjected until now.

To date no one has been able to articulate any genuine, deep-seated policy differences between Likud and Blue and White. Perhaps this is because the latter, correctly, did not bother to work up a platform other than “anyone but Bibi” (and nearly managed to snatch the electoral plurality on this basis alone).

Instinctively, the Gantz-Lapid-Yaalon-Ashkenazi quadrumvirate understood that the Tel Aviv voter is no longer leftwing regarding economic issues, while its younger echelon is no longer leftwing even regarding security and diplomatic issues. No greater proof is needed than the virtual evaporation of Labor and the minuscule manifestation of Meretz. The Israeli left is dead in the water.

Yet, despite its impressive showing at the poling station, Blue and White did not succeed in dethroning ‘King Bibi’ who appears hell-bent on having it sit as an opposition with very little to oppose.

The benefits of a Likud-Blue and White coalition would be unimaginable. For one thing, taxpayers would save billions. Plus, a formula would be found to compel Haredim to shoulder their share of the economic and defense burden.

Yet, ironically, the greatest beneficiaries would be the rank and file Haredim themselves who would finally be forced to acquire the skills necessary, and the need, to go out and support their families, as the Torah requires of them. After all, it’s right there in the Ten Commandments. Three centuries of chronic dependency and finagling would finally come to an end.

It can happen, but only if Bibi will allow the interests of the State to take precedence over the interests of Bibi. Let’s make it happen.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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