A Unity Government to End the Haredi Quagmire

Everyone benefits, especially haredim

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 echelons 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’ and must now sit as an opposition with very little to oppose; hardly an auspicious way to launch a political movement that has any hope for a future.

Across the aisle, Likud must now cobble together a coalition where yet again the haredi tail will was the political dog. Once again, the IDF-serving, tax-paying citizen will be forced to fork over billions in cash and benefits to the haredi sector. In exchange Likud will again be renting a haredi rubber stamp for policies and legislation that do not directly affect the otherwise anti-Zionist, isolationist, bloc-voting haredi community.

Is Bibi corrupt? Absolutely. But his corruption has nothing to do with cigars, pistachio ice cream or German submarines.

Bibi is corrupt for cynically pretending that United Torah Judaism and Shas are natural allies for a right-wing government when they are not. The ultra-Orthodox parties would join a Blue and White coalition in a nano-second if that party were the higher bidder in the payoff game to haredi special interests. Haredim do not give two hoots about two-state or single state solutions. They could not care less about economic policies affecting the business and agricultural sectors. The duration of military service and the soldier’s paycheck are irrelevant to them, as is the cost of tuition at Israel’s universities. Their rubber stamp for all of these issues is perennially inked and ever-ready in exchange for a hefty fee.

Israeli citizens – the enlisting, productive, tax paying kind – harbor no illusions. They know they are being fleeced, not so much by the haredim as by a government that will shamelessly pick their pockets in order to rent the haredi rubber stamp.

The cost of having to carry a sector that produces virtually no soldiers, no scientists, no physicians, no farmers, indeed almost no above-board laborers, is staggering and ultimately unsustainable.

Of no lesser concern is what this does to Israel’s (self) image as an enlightened and benevolent society. We are constantly being told how the poverty rate in Israel is so much higher than elsewhere in the developed world. How one third of Israeli children go to bed hungry. Yet no one mentions the fact that many, if not most, of these hungry children are the offspring of two-parent households headed by an able-bodied father who refuses to work to support his family. Indeed, were we to remove such households from the poverty rosters, Israel’s true poverty rate would be among the world’s lowest, and we would have the means to easily alleviate any legitimate distress.

A coalition of Likud and Blue and White would yield an overwhelming majority of 71 seats in the Knesset – a majority that could once and for all confront the socio-economic menace of haredi political extortion. Ironically this would not only benefit the taxpayer, it would ultimately benefit the haredi everyman as well.

The first order of the day for such a unity government would be to admit the obvious – haredim are not, at present, part of the social contract. They do not, as a rule, do military or national service. They do not, by preference, choose to work in the legitimate commercial sector. They do not participate in, or show any respect for, national celebrations and days of mourning. They refuse to give their children the sort of education that might prepare them for gainful employment, let alone any opportunity to discover where they real abilities and talents lay.

In the one-size-fits-all haredi curriculum, boys are forced into a lifetime of Talmudic learning for which only the fewest of the few have any aptitude. One can hardly calculate the degree of frustration and lack of self-fulfillment that is rampant among the tens of thousands of haredi men who must spend their lives neglecting their families while pretending to be scholars.

A unity government comprising Likud and Blue and White could start by admitting the truth. It could openly express its genuine concern for a sector that is doing enormous economic and security harm to the greater society, and even greater damage to its own progeny.

This would lead to policy decisions that would empower haredim to start acting in their true self-interest, and ultimately wean them off the dole and a lifetime of shameless schnorring.

This might start with national service. (And, by the way this should include the Arab sector as well, because civic equality must mean equal sharing of the civic burden.) Hence any able-bodied male who refuses to do national service would have to pay for the privilege of opting out. A sum of 200,000 shekels would be a bare minimum, and should prove no problem for a sector that miraculously seems able to purchase apartments for they newly married children despite having no visible source of income. Of course those who prefer not to pay the opt-out fee would be most welcome to join the ranks of those who serve.

A second move would be the elimination of all subsidies to yeshiva students, except for the handful who are uniquely gifted and deserve to be recognized as national assets, as was originally intended. Haredi students should pay for their own yeshiva education just as normative students – who have served three years in the IDF – pay for their own university tuition.

All tax subsidies and cash handouts should be categorically eliminated in every instance where an able-bodied father chooses to be unemployed. At the same time, subsidies for large families should be maintained – even increased ­– but only for those families where the father earns a legitimate paycheck that is inadequate for feeding his children.

Policy changes such as these would not compel haredim to join the IDF or stand for a moment of silence on our Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers. They would respect haredi differences without obligating the rest of us to pay for those differences. More importantly they would provide the rank and file haredi with food for thought. Such policies would provide haredim with reasons to reconsider the blind obedience to rabbinic leaders who would deny them any opportunity for a dignified existence, self-respect, economic independence and the right to live as religious Jews had always lived – by doing honest work of their own choosing.

Over time, everyone will come to understand that such policies are hardly punitive. Indeed they are enlightened. For not only will they relieve all of us of an exponentially unsustainable socio-economic burden, but they will liberate the rank and file haredi from the yoke of blind obedience and a lifetime of dead-end dependence on others.

Never before in the history of our State has there been an opportunity such we now have. By conjoining two key parties whose differences are negligible yet who, jointly, represent the overwhelming majority of productive Israeli citizens, we would be well on our way to a vastly healthier and happier future for everyone.

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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