|Photo by: picture credits - Menachem Lipkin|
Opportunity to right decades of wrong
There is finally a government which does not need the ultra-Orthodox parties in its midst to survive.
The motivations for the surprising deal between the Likud and Kadima don’t
concern me at all. Politicians jumping sides or changing tones is nothing new.
The fact remains that the historic agreement between Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz may save the future of
There is finally a government which does not need the
ultra-Orthodox parties in its midst to survive. As a result, the most pressing
problem in Israel can and must be addressed by this government in the next 17
Many point to the inability of the middle class to sustain itself
as the most pressing issue in Israel today. Others are concerned with the lack
of peace or too many concessions toward peace. While all of these are issues
which need to be discussed, we are forgetting about the events of this past year
when focusing on these issues. Extremism, religious coercion, and unity are the
issues which truly threaten our future internally and the new unity government
can address these issues for the first time in decades.
We must take the
city of Beit Shemesh as a microcosm for the entire country to truly understand
this point. Citizens of Beit Shemesh, many of them Likud members, have been
turning to Likud MKs for the past two years for help regarding the extremist
direction of our city. Many of them wanted to help us but could not get the
prime minister on board because he needed a “stable coalition” which meant
satisfying the ultra-Orthodox parties.
So, our city continued on its path
toward extremism. Then, little girls were the subject of extremist
attacks. We figured for sure that would awaken the prime minister to step in and
help. We were wrong. “Coalition stability” trumped doing what was right to
protect little Jewish girls. Then, I was blessed to be part of a historic rally
in Beit Shemesh just a few months ago, in which the entire country stood
together in unison against the extremists.
That rally forced the prime
minister to direct one of his representatives to invite a group from our city to
meet with him. But, alas, Moshe Gafni from the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah
party stood before microphones and suggested that the prime minister entering
into the issue of the ultra-Orthodox and Beit Shemesh could cause him coalition
issues and, in the end, no meeting took place.
How are we in a situation
as a country where the national responsibilities are not shared and tens of
thousands, way more than can possibly be capable of studying Torah day and
night, are exempt from service “because of their Torah study?”
How do we have a
situation where we are funding too many young men to study instead of creating a
framework for them to study and earn a dignified living? How have we allowed a
community to remain isolated to the point that extremism reared its ugly head
against little children this past year?
How have we allowed the rabbinate to
become so extremist that instead of providing religious services and embracing
all Jews, it actually pushes people away from religious practice and Jewish
identity? It is because the ultra-Orthodox parties have been the king-makers for
most coalitions over the past few decades and have been able to move their
isolationist, extremist and self-serving agendas forward.
Well, that is
no longer the case. There is finally complete and total “coalition
stability.” We now have a coalition which can do whatever it wants to do
without regard to the ultra-Orthodox parties. If this government wants to do
what is right, it can do so without any fears of Shas and/or United Torah
Judaism bolting the coalition. They can be shown the door and perhaps feel the
comfort of sitting in the opposition with the anti-Zionist Arab
Let it be clear. Prime Minister Netanyahu has no more excuses.
This government empowers him to address the issues which threaten to tear our
country apart. He can address the extremism and unfairness with regard to
construction in cities like Beit Shemesh because stopping the takeover of an
entire city and providing housing for IDF veterans and those who pay taxes is
the right thing to do.
He can open the rabbinate to more moderate and
Zionistic forces because that will help unify our country and enable people to
once again embrace Judaism. He can solve the conversion crisis and fight racism
and discrimination because core Jewish values and tradition demand doing so. And
the extremist, ultra-Orthodox parties cannot do a darn thing about
The next 17 months will demonstrate if this prime minister has core
values and concern for the citizens of Israel, or whether he simply wanted to
avoid challenges within his party and also go down in history as the prime
minister who had the largest coalition ever.
Three nights ago, while
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz were meeting, extremists walked down a
street in a Zionistic neighborhood in Beit Shemesh and tore down all Israeli
flags from people’s homes and cars. How symbolic! Now is the time for Netanyahu
and Mofaz to show whether their agreement was to secure their own political
futures or to secure a better future for the citizens of Israel. Did they make
this agreement to further shine the spotlight on themselves or was it to lead
Israel to become a moderate, Jewish state which is a light onto the
Mr. Prime Minister, which one will it be?
The writer is an
ordained rabbi, educator, author and community activist in Beit Shemesh. He is
the director of the English Speakers Division of the Am Shalem movement.