Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Goose and Gander

Having discussed insight recently I want to return to the topic, especially with how it comes to play in the current negotiations for a new government in Israel.
The one thing people following the issue cannot have missed is that Bibi Netanyahu has been presented with a choice.  He can either cobble together a government with secular Yesh Atid and Dati Leumi Bayit Yehudi or with the Chareidi parties.  The clashing platforms of the former preclude forming any kind of functioning government containing both sides.
It's not an easy choice for Bibi.  At first glance it makes obvious sense for him to go with Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi for two reasons. The first is that they represent important segments of the Israeli population with long-standing grievances and if these are not addressed he will continue to lose votes to the new parties.  Yair Lapid has already boasted publicly about becoming prime minister in the next election (assuming he's not a flash in the pan like his father was).  The second reason is forward thinking.  By bringing Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi into the government Bibi can steal some of their momentum.  Nothing muddies up today's golden boy like the mud of governing.  Remember that what killed Shinui, the party of Lapid's father, was being in the government of Ariel Sharon's Likud and being exposed as a political party as corrupt and incompetent as all others.
But it is the forward thinking part that must worry Bibi.  He might be able to form a government without any Chareidi parties today but the next election is a wild card.  Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi might soar to 25 seats or more.  They might also completely disappear.  The only real certainty is that the Chareidi parties will accumulate 18-20 seats.  They will definitely be around and a possible candidate for government after the next election, the new upstarts might not and Bibi knows this.  If he builds a non-Chareidi government he would be successful today but then be relegated to the sidelines after the next election.
Why?  Isn't the natural home of the Chareidi parties on the right?  After all they've been part of every Israeli government since 1977 when Menachem Begin first brought them into his new coalition.  Where else would they go?
To quote Madonna from the old Dick Tracy movie when asked the question: "Whose side are you on?"
"Mine!"
As soon as the election results came out and the possibility of a government without any Chareidi parties emerged the Chareidi leadership began to scream and shout in a predictable fashion.  Like the spoiled child who has gotten whatever he wants for years by stamping his feet they were incredulous at the thought that they might not have the blackmailing power they've come to expect as their natural inheritance this time around.
As this article in Ynet notes, the Chareidi leadership and, by extension, its general cultural awareness, has come to expect a double standard in all its dealings with the outside world.
If there is one thing the haredim cannot be accused of, it is having respect for the other's worldview, beliefs and needs. They demand everyone else's respect as the (sole) representatives of the Torah, but they do not have to respect anyone else in return. They have a right to meddle in every affair under the sun, while others are forbidden from intervening in their affairs.
This isolationist and condescending outlook of haredi society in Israel could have been its own business had it not chosen to run our affairs as well. The Amish in the US are just as isolated, but at least they do not ask to head Congress' Budget Committee in order to transfer huge sums of money to their communities.
The ultra-Orthodox in Israel chose the political arena because they want to enjoy the best of both worlds. Now that there is a possibility that they will be treated like any other player, they yell "Gevalt! A community in Israel is being boycotted!" But this is not true. No one is boycotting the haredi community. The ultra-Orthodox public enjoys many rights, and even those who do not want them in the coalition are not trying to marginalize them, but rather to drag them towards the center. Opposing a political agenda is not akin to a boycott.


Now one can certainly not place all the blame on the Chareidi leadership.  Since the State was founded they have enjoyed certain inequitable rights like endless deferral of army service and government funding of their educational institutions regardless of their refusal to abide by the conditions the funding comes with.  They have never been held accountable for what they receive and it is no wonder they are shocked when they are suddenly told they will be.  This is a community, after all, for which change is farbotten.
But their response will not win them any points either.  Threatening to boycott the settlements and work with the ultra-left to delegitimize Israelis in Yehudah and Shomron is hollow. Too many Chareidim live across the Green Line.  Will they all be ordered to move into pre-1967 Israel al pi Daas Torah?
The real danger of the internet for the Chareidim is how it has exposed the hollowness of its claims to superiority.  It has exposed the shenanigans of its prominent members, the extent of child abuse, pedophilia and other crimes committed by these supposed representatives of "true Torah Judaism" and put a lie to its revisionist claims of Jewish history.  Once upon a time things which were said in Yiddish in Bene Beraq stayed in Bene Beraq.  Now they get spilled over the airwaves in Hebrew and English.
Once upon a time folks like Rav Avi Shafran could smile and tell us the official line about how Chareidim love all Jews and that Chareidi communities are models of tolerance and religious perfection.   Now we on the outside know that they are just like anyone else, even worse sometimes because whereas other communities have bad traits Chareidi leaders often take those traits and elevate them to the status of halacha l'Moshe miSinai.  If a Frenchman is arrogant, well he's just being French and doesn't know better.  When a Chareidi is arrogant he insists he is performing a mitzvah!  It sometimes seems like it is the official Chareidi position to be dismissive and insulting when interacting with the outside world while being outraged when the tables are turned.  Some of them seem to believe they have a right from Heaven to do whatever they want combined with an immunity to reciprocity and they cannot comprehend why the outside world doesn't get it.
Consider Rav Yonasan Rosenblum's latest piece for Cross Currents.  Now one must admit Rav Rosenblum is called on to perform many thankless tasks.  No matter how outrageous a Chareidi action might have been he has to defend it in some ways.  His latest task, naturally, is justifying why Chareidim are entitled to not serve in Israel's army while receiving benefits from the State.  And if you think he's starting out by defusing one of the most idiotic arguments Chareidim make:

“More and more Israelis are asking themselves whether it’s fair that young men like Yochanan Plessner [who served in an elite combat division] should go off at the age of eighteen, risk their lives, endure great hardship, in order to defend us – all of us – while at the same time eighteen year old yeshiva students are exempted from that burden. Rabbi Rosenblum, is that fair?”
I have heard chareidi debaters counter this argument: Well, is it fair that we have to do all the Torah learning for the country?

well, he's not.  Instead of admitting what we all know, that the claim that Chareidim do all the Torah learning for Israel is incorrect and outrageously arrogant he goes in a different tack.  Yes, it's true but it's not what the Chareidi leadership should be telling people because, poor benighted am ha'aretzim that we are, we simply wouldn't get it.
As radical as it sounds one wonders if there is any further point to discussion with the Chareidi leadership.  Perhaps Yair Lapid is feared and villified not because he represents a secular attack on Torah but because his first major speech post-election was to educated Chareidi professionals, that segment of the community that has tasted what the outside world has to offer without compromising on their lifestyle and beliefs, the very segment that would respond to their leaderships clarion call to return to the ghetto with a resounding "No thank you".  Perhaps it's time to talk to the Chareidim themselves and remind them that their leadership is condemning many of them to lives of poverty and ignorance and that they can do better while remaining stalwart in their observance of Torah.

2 comments:

SJ said...

Hareidi leadership has historically saw being poor and faithful as the ideal with no possibility of making a living and being faithful.

it's a sick cult.

Michael Sedley said...

I think that your premise at the beginning of the article is wrong - Bibi does not have the option of forming a Coalition with the Charedim unless he can get either Labour or Bayit haYehudi to join.

Bibi has indicated that his first preference would be with the Charedim, but he doesn't have enough seats with only Shas, Aguda, Kadima, and HaTnua.