David Turner

“Who is an Israeli” or, “Did Shas really threaten to leave Israel?”

Until a Kadima-augmented majority “secular” coalition government responded to the Supreme Court order to replace the unconstitutional Tal Law with legislation extending citizenship obligations to all Israelis, the most controversial issue promoted by Israeli Orthodoxy was legislating “Who is a Jew.”  

But an editorial in today’s Yom leYom, official newspaper of the Sephardic Shas party, took the Tal Law controversy concerning haredi military service to an unprecedented level of stridency. Yom le-Yom went as far as to challenge the legitimacy of the state, even threatening that the Orthodox would leave Israel if the haredim were forced to serve.

Previously “moderate” by Israeli Orthodox standards, over the years Shas, along with much of Israel’s “Zionist” Orthodox community, has come increasingly under the influence of the religiously intolerant and anti-Zionist “Lithuanians,” Rabbi Shach’s Degel Hatorah Party. With today’s outburst it appears that Shas has shorn any pretense of moderation and tolerance for a secular and democratic state of the Jews.

As reported in Ynet, spokesman for the party and editor of Yom LeYom Rabbi Moshe Shafir, apparently with the blessing of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (nothing much happens in Shas without the rabbis approval) threatened Israel on several levels, from legitimacy to survival. If, Shas declared (according to the Ynet article), the government forced the haredim to serve in the army the Orthodox community would resort to acts of “defiance.” These would include “lawsuits in the UN and the international courts” (an implicit challenge to the legitimacy of the state and its government regarding legislating laws) and, recalling the public and Diaspora outcry caused some months ago, threatening to hold public protests featuring, “Holocaust-type photos of dozens of children wearing yellow badges.”

And if social protest did not produce the “democratic” outcome Shas could live with then the Orthodox community would take the next step, bring the country to its knees by conducting a “tax revolt” backed by public strikes intended to “make spaghetti of your [my emphasis] country.

And finally the ultimate threat as reported in Ynet: “He [Rabbi Shafir] also warned of a mass haredi exodus ‘which will gradually turn you [my emphasis, again] into a minority in the face of an Arab majority.’” Just where that “exodus” would end (Poland, Spain, Brooklyn?) was left to the reader’s imagination.

Several years ago an article appeared in which a haredi in Jerusalem scorned a reporter watching Independence Day celebrations: Enjoy them, the man was reported to have said, because there wont be many more (an impression from memory, not a quote). Offensive coming from a disgruntled individual; how much more so to realize that a once apparently moderate Orthodox voice in Israeli politics was no more attached and loyal to the state than that anti-Zionist haredi?

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.