In the interests of full disclosure I am, and have always been, a rightwing Zionist. I am also a product of haredi society, and still consider myself religiously observant, although I refuse to identify as Orthodox, or indeed with any ‘branch’ of Judaism. In this I follow the example of classical Sephardi Jews – despite my pure Ashkenazi provenance – who never felt any need for organized religious sectarianism. A Jew is a Jew. He or she is always welcome in the synagogue and at their parents’ table. One’s degree of personal observance is between themselves and God exclusively. There is no need for branches and breakaways. In the Ashkenazi world the emergence of alternative Judaisms was as much the result of push as it was of pull; of ostracism by rigid ‘Orthodox’ rabbis and communities as it was the attractions of the enlightenment and assimilation.
With elections drawing nigh here in Israel, the issue of coalition politics and the inclusion of haredi parties yet again rears its ugly head. 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 Memorial Day, 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 inhibitions against taking whatever and whenever they can on an individual basis as well. This includes widespread double-dipping at yeshivas, 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 claiming to be sitting in kolels – 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.
The participation of haredi parties in Israeli government coalitions involves a cynically expedient relationship between a prevailing mainstream Zionist government 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 service.
The cost to the Israeli taxpayer is staggering. The unequal burden of defending the country 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 tests, no set curricula, no periodic exams or theses, 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 are 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 majority 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.
My personal politics notwithstanding, I would rather see a leftwing government with a solid majority being given the opportunity to prove the failure of its ideas than to continue living on the leaky ship of a crudely cobbled government that is divided against itself.
Hence the emergence of the new Blue and White Party gave me momentary pause as I considered giving it my vote despite the colossal incompetence and inexperience of Benny Ganz and the questionable bona fides of Yair Lapid. If their new party would promise the electorate to refuse under any circumstances to include haredi parties in their coalition, they would have gotten my vote. I would sacrifice my ideological priorities to save the State from four more years of predatory haredi political hornswoggling. Indeed, I was certain, considering Lapid’s record, that Blue and White would alter the course of history by allowing us four years of haredi-free political fresh air.
Imagine my disappointment when Benny Ganz proved, yet again, his utter lack of vision as he began courting the men in black – for they are always men and always dressed in black. I could not believe it; Benny Ganz not only incompetent but a willing political prostitute just like Bibi, ready to indulge his pleasure at our expense.
Imagine for a moment what might happen if Likud and Blue and White – in a shared act of national integrity – would make a pact that neither party would, under any circumstances, include haredim in their coalitions. Initially this would result in a stalemate whereby neither major party would be able to form a government. Hence there would be the need for another election, and perhaps even a third round at the ballot box. But sooner or later the voter would come to understand that a vote for a minor – let alone haredi – party is a vote wasted. Eventually a majority of the electorate would vote for one of the two major parties and we would finally have a government capable of proving or disproving, its worth over the course of an uninterrupted four-year mandate.
The benefits 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 the interests of the State take precedence over the interests of the Bibis and Bennys. Let’s make it happen