The municipal elections for mayor in Israel are happening today and reading the ongoing saga of the election campaign from out here in golus has been truly frightening. Perhaps it's because I'm Canadian and just expect a certain level of civility but listening to the tactic various candidates have use to promote themselves is really scary. Tearing down one's opponent's signs is bad enough but in this case it's the most benign strategy being used. Did a Chareidi newspaper really print a picture suggesting that the non-Chareidi candidate in the Beit Shemesh race would put Chareidi children in to concentration camps? Did more than one "Gadol" threaten those who don't vote for the parties they recommend with death?
For as long as I can remember elections in Israel have been a rancorous affair. Possibly that's because there's so much at stake. In addition the various parties have real differences in their platforms in terms of the direction they want to take their electorate in. As opposed to Canada where the biggest distinction between party platforms is the colour of the cover page of their policy book, Israeli politics generates meaningful discussions and real passion.
Too much passion sometimes. Am I the only person who remembers the mid 1980's Likud convention (I think it was 1986) that had to be cancelled because of fist fights and thrown chairs? Or the election campaign in the mid-1990's where multiple postal workers were fined for refusing to deliver campaign propaganda from parties they disagreed with?
All of this would be fun to watch were it not for the involvement of the religious parties. For all the Chareidi PR machine tries to convince us of the holiness and purity of that community the behaviour of its political representatives easily smashes that image. Whether its the ongoing disgrace that is the mayor's race in Beit Shemesh or the lack of any campaign in Bene Beraq since only the "Gadol approved" candidate is allowed to run, the face of the Chareidi community these cretins display is very discouraging.
One concern is, of course, the demographic time bomb. A majority of young Jewish children in Israel are Chareidi. Even with a strong OTD rate the community's representation in Israeli politics is going to continue to increase. Even if it doesn't at the national level the number of towns now Chareidi controlled is increasing. This is no longer a fringe phenomenon but a national concern.
And what can we expect from this ongoing development? What will a dominant Chareidi political establishment look like? Contempt for the masses, supreme power to "the Gedolim" and real power concentrated in the hands of their handlers who will decide what anouncements these sages will make and what they will expect from the people. Non-compliance will be dealth with by threats of violence and death. Freedom of expression will be a thing of the past. Only think what you are told to think, only do what you are told to do and don't ask any questions. How dare you expect "the Gedolim" to explain themselves to a maggot like you?
Worse than that will be the backlash from the general public. For people for whom freedom of expression (as long as you agree with me, otherwise we'll have to argue loudly) and belief are cherished values the idea that a group of old men, wise as they are, controlled by power-hungry askanim will dictate their lives to them is unacceptable. This is the impression they will get of Torah: we frum types are just like the Iranians and Saudis except we wear different outfits. Is that not a chilul HaShem of the highest order?
From what I've read the Chareidi response has broken down into two groups. One group is sick of this behaviour. A major sage calling for his opponents to be killed sickens them. They love being Chareidi, they love all the great positive things the community possseses in spades, they love the fervour of the worship and the intensity of the Torah learning but they can't stand the people who are making their look like the Jewish equivalents of Muslim fanatics.
Then there are their counterparts who cannot comprehend even questioning "the Gedolim". If Maran HaGaon Rav X says people who don't vote for the right parties deserve to beaten and die they'll line up at the hardware store to purchase a crowbar (during men's shopping hours) to eagerly participate. They will see their subsequent idiocy as a mitzvah performance of the highest order.
It is therefore imperative that the outside community reach out to the reasonable part of the Chareidi community and offer them what will be an uncomfortable choice: are you with us for fairness and rationality or are you with them because they're your buddies? Are you interested in a Torah community that represents intelligent thought and action or with the primitives who still see drunken Cossacks around every corner?
The problem with politics is that it is a mudpit. Even the greatest "Gadol" with all his learning and purity gets covered in mud when he jumps into it.