Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Laugh or Cry?

These days I feel like Alice in Anti-Wonderland, where what seemed impossible yesterday is now happening before my very eyes. I would say ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ if I could, but I feel more like saying ‘Awfuller and Awfuller.’

Each candidate for a ministerial post in the government that Netanyahu is trying to form seems to be totally unsuited for the positions of responsibility they are about to fulfill. One of them, known for his seditious views and general disregard for the rule of law, is to be appointed Minister of Public Security, giving him control of the police force and other law enforcement bodies. Another, who has very little knowledge of defense matters and did a minimal term of service in the IDF, wants to be Minister of Defence. Netanyahu is holding out against this, but there’s no knowing what the end-result will be.

And now we come to the archetypical ‘fingers-in-the-till’ politician. A man who has even served a prison term for managing to confuse public and private finance to the extent that he and his relatives have ended up owning extensive property all over Israel. Someone somewhere must be having a laugh if they are seriously thinking of appointing him Minister of Finance.

But those are the facts, and the bottom line of these and other similar appointments of politicians whose main objective is to channel public funds towards the constituency that has elected them, trampling roughshod over the principles of democracy, egalitarian distribution of wealth and the rule of law.

I grew up in an orthodox family and was even an active member of Bnei Akiva in my youth, but living in Israel enabled me to identify as Jewish without being hampered by outdated rules and regulations requiring me to behave as if we were still living in the Middle Ages. The sad fact is that the modern world is anathema to the adherents of the ultra-orthodox version of Judaism. But they have now gained the upper hand in the governance of Israel, and the way ahead is looking ever bleaker.

The first sally came from the man who would be Minister of Defense who, in one fell swoop, managed to alienate a large section of the population that probably voted for him. By castigating the tradition of holding soccer games on a Saturday (Shabbat) afternoon he shot a poisoned arrow at the heart of Israel’s secular society. And that was only the beginning. Whether his desire will be achieved remains to be seen, but it is just one symptom of where the new government is headed. Which much-loved tradition will go next? That is anyone’s guess, but it should come as no surprise to anyone when public performances of material that is not in keeping with the ultra-orthodox way of life will be banned. In an attempt to mollify that segment of the population the Egged bus company has already scrapped ads that show scantily-dressed women. It is very possible that soon no female image will be permitted in public places, and the repression of women inherent in orthodox Judaism will prevail throughout the country.

There are parts of some towns in Israel where women are required to walk in an area separate from men. There are buses where women are not allowed to sit in the front seats. Every now and again one hears of orthodox men refusing to sit next to a woman on a plane. Orthodox men won’t shake a relative’s hand if she is a woman because touching a woman is considered to contaminate him. So don’t tell me that the repression of women is not an integral part of the Jewish religion.

If no one puts a stop to it, this government will do its best to take us back into the Dark Ages.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.