Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 18 February 2013

Who's Afraid Of Yair Lapid?

The recent elections in Israel have resulted in what might turn into a society upheaval there.  For the first time in history a significant number of identifiably religious Israelis have become MK's.  What's more these MK's arent' exclusively confined to the Chareidi parties and Bayit Yehuda but spread out amongst several parties.  In fact given how many divrei Torah and religious references were made by MK's in their introductory speeches to the Knesset one can almost hear the sound of the founders of Secular Zionism rolling in their graves.  This was not the Israel they were hoping to build!
And then there's the new wunderkind of the Knesset, Yair Lapid, son of Tommy.  In his first run for office he garnered 19 seats for his Yesh Atid party making it the second largest in the Knesset.  With his charisma and media experience he parlayed that into what will be a commanding position in the next government.  And like his father one of the main planks of his platform concerns the Charaeidim.
Now for those who don't remember, Tommy Lapid also swept into the Knesset with a new party, Shinui, a few elections back.  From nowhere he earned 15 seats and a spot in the governing coalition based on a platform entirely devoted to attacking Chareidim.  There was little about Shinui that was positive save the "We positively hate Chareidim and are out to get them" plank.  Now his son is being viewed by the Chareidi community in the same way and for good reason.
For one thing, unlike Tommy, Yair is far more charismatic.  Lapid the elder always came off as a wide-eyed lunatic when talking about the Chareidim; not so his son.  For another, Lapid the younger's platform is far more comprehensive.  Yesh Atid is not a single issue party but has positions on most of the issues that Israelis find important.  Unlike the rest of the world the average Israeli is far more worried about the country's economic difficulties and income disparity than the so-called Peace Process.  Lapid correctly realizes this, hands people a few meaningless bromides about his thougths regarding the Arabs and then spends more time focused on economics.
For another, Lapid's approach to the Chareidim is not based on a "We hate them, let's get 'em" position but rather on one very similar to his economic position.  His message of sharing the burden, whether it be the wealthy with poor when it comes to economic opportunity or whether it be the Chareidim and the Chilonim when it comes to army service, is not one easily dismissed as hate-mongering despite Chareidi attempts to do so.
Despite what he says there will be no mass Chareidi draft in the next few years.  The Chareidi population is too entrenched and controlled by its leadership to meekly submit to such a drastic change overnight.  Furthermore, despite his importance to any new government coalition Lapid will discover that the Chareidi parties still hold great importance in the Knesset.  Bibi might not need tem today but he might after the next election and he is certainly keeping that in mind.
But what might happen is a gradual change in Chareidi society and this worth keeping an eye on.  Not for nothing did Lapid make an eloquent speech to Chareidi law students at Kiryat Ono recently, stressing the importance of the Chareidi community to Israeli society and its need to be aware of the rest of the country's concerns, not just its own. 
By speaking to these students Lapid tried a radical new approach. Until now most attempts to interact with the Chareidim on any societal basis have taken place through their leader, the "Gedolim" and their handlers.  Since Gedolim generally reject any requests made by "the outside" as a matter of principle this approach has led nowhere.  But Lapid has done something else.  He's gone directly to the people and interacted with them.  This might have quite a different effect.
How many disaffected Chareidim are out there?  Not folks wishing they could go OTD but people who are 95% satisfied with being Chareidi and yearn for a way to improve that final 5%?  By going to the leadership we will never find out. The social pressure and groupthink that pervades the community prevents anyone from finding out.  But by talking directly to Chareidim one might light a spark leading to positive change within the community - a movement towards some interaction with the outside world without a compromise in the religious quality of their lives.
The response from the Chareidi leadership to Lapid's outreach has been downright nasty.  This is not a surprise since an intelligent, think-for-themselves Chareidi is a threat to "Daas Torah" and its "You're stupid so just do what I say" system of leadership.  Instead we should quietly watch for the response from the rank and file and have patience instead of expecting a sea change.
On the other hand one can also invoke history.  Lapid the elder, in his first election, got 15 seats and a place at the cabinet table with the Likud and the Mafdal (National Religious Party).  After all his campaigning he did nothing to change the status quo with the Chareidim.  In his second election support collapsed completely and shortly after Shinui disappeared into history.
In his first election Lapid the younger got 19 seats and will most certainly wind up at the cabinet table with the Likud and Bayit Yehudi, the new Mafdal party.  Lapid might succeed in bringing some change to Israeli society or, like his father, his speeches might come to nothing and Yesh Atid might wind up having no future.

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