Michael Boyden

Israel Will Have to Change

When I first visited Israel in 1967, it was a different place. The Six Day War had just been won, and the military threat posed by our Arab neighbours that could so easily have destroyed our country turned almost overnight into a miraculous victory. We were ecstatic.

We flocked to the Western Wall, where men, women and children, religious and secular, assembled at the place that would be transformed into a charedi synagogue.

We went down to Hebron, where we visited the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs and bought Darbuksas from the local Arab merchants. No one was afraid.

Me’a She’arim was a small Jerusalem neighbourhood, where we bought Judaica and where the kind of Jews lived that we knew from Fiddler on the Roof and the dolls that were sold in the tourist shops. However, things have changed.

A research paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs reports that the charedim have tripled in number since 1980 from four to 12 percent of the Israeli population, and are projected to grow to over 20 percent by 2040.

Back in 1965, the Ashkenazi charedi party Agudat Yisrael had just four seats in the Knesset, while Shas didn’t even exist. In the current Knesset the two parties together number 18 seats.

Their growth not only impacts on the way Israel addresses religious affairs, but also has consequences in terms of military service exemption and those in yeshivot and kollelim who are not gainfully employed. Today they number no less than 150,000!

The refusal on the part of their political leaders to integrate core curriculum subjects such as Mathematics and English into the education offered by most of their institutions means that most of them will never be able to earn a decent living and they will become an ever increasing burden on the state.

According to a report published in 2018, only 7,250 charedim were serving in the IDF.

However, Israel’s problems do not end with the unwillingness of the charedim to take upon themselves their fair share of responsibility for contributing financially to the exchequer and defending our country.

Many would argue that Israel’s hold on the West Bank will also place the future of the Jewish State at risk. Yeshayahu Leibowitz already agued after the 6 Day War that the territory between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean should be partitioned between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

However, rather than that happening, we have seen the blossoming of settlements and the growth of Jewish fascism. Today’s Knesset includes fourteen members of the Religious Zionist Party headed by Bezalel Smotrich. They are Israel’s third largest party.

Of the likes of them Leibowitz wrote: “They have deified the nation, adopted patriotism as their faith and made the state their religion. Their concern is not with the Jewish people as (potentially or in actuality) the People of the Torah, but with the Torah as serving the interests of the nation and the state”.

The international community will not stand by indefinitely as Israel continues to control the lives of millions of Palestinians and Jewish zealots claim the right to their territory, for “the land belongs to God, the world and all who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

The Religious Zionists and the charedi parties currently hold 32 seats in the Knesset. Given the charedi fertility rate of 6.6, as opposed to the declining rate of the religious population (3.9), and 2 in the secular population, the writing is on the wall.

Religious fanaticism and nationalism threaten the future of our country. Rather than joining forces with their political leaders in order to form government coalitions, those who still believe in Israel as a liberal democracy and the vision of its Declaration of Independence need to unite in order to combat those elements in our society that could destroy us. Only that way can we ensure that we have a future.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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