One of the fascinating features of Israeli reality is the fact that there isn’t
an economic, social or political problem or malfunction, no matter how
complicated or embarrassing, which does not get aired out openly and thoroughly
in the media, and subsequently in the Knesset.
However, this in itself
does necessary lead to solutions, or to change, and most of the problems and
malfunctions linger on unresolved.
The main reason for this is the large
number of issues, and the ideological and religious schisms in society, which
are the main cause of many of our governability problems. So “the dogs bark,
while the caravan goes on.”
Unfortunately, the fact that 2013 was an
election year, and that following the elections a very different government to
the previous one was formed, did not manage to break the familiar pattern.
Perhaps things would be different if our prime minister were not fully committed
to only two issues – stopping Iran from turning nuclear and keeping together his
coalition – but at this stage it is difficult to imagine Binyamin Netanyahu
committing himself to revolutionary change in any other sphere unless it is
imposed on him.
One of the nagging issues which were aired out and
discussed ad nauseam in the course of 2013, and regarding which real progress
appears to have taken place, is that concerning the so-called tycoons in
general, and Nochi Dankner in particular. On December 9 the Anti-Conglomerates
Law was passed by the Knesset, promising to bring the scandalous financial
pyramids to an end, and on December 17 the Tel Aviv District Court approved a
bailout plan for the IDB conglomerate,which leaves Dankner out of the
Most of the other issues aired out in the course of 2013 didn’t
fare as well, and are unfortunately unlikely to fare any better in
These issues include the ever-mounting housing and food prices and
the public health crisis, which are both the result of our unbridled “free
market” economy and its perversions; the outrageous conduct of the workers
committees in the sea ports of Ashdod and Haifa and violent gang-wars among
“crime families,” which leave one with the sad impression that there is complete
anarchy in too many spheres (ein din ve’ein dayan); and the total refusal of the
government to seek a humane solution to the problem of the African refugees and
job seekers, or confront outbursts of xenophobia and racism against
Even the issue of the so-called “ethnic demon,” involving the
ongoing discrimination against Israelis of Mizrahi origin, on which TV Channel
10 recently focused in a series of excellent investigative reports, which raised
a wave of concerned reactions, appears to have been returned to the pigeonhole
where it usually resides, while Channel 10 itself has reverted to its
unconscious practice of strengthening negative stereotyping of Mizrahim in
reality programs such as Hayafa Vehakhnun (the beauty and the nerd) where most
of the “beauties” are dumb, ignorant (bleached) blonds of Mizrahi origin, and
all the nerds, with their peculiarities and high IQs, are Ashkenzim – many of
them Russian immigrants. This is certainly no way to fight ethnic
discrimination, or to try to get prejudiced Ashkenazim to change their attitude
toward the Mizrahim.
AMONG ALL the daunting issues awaiting resolution,
there is one regarding which there were particularly high hopes that some
breakthrough would be achieved in the course of 2013, and which seems further
away from a solution than ever. This concerns the question of getting the
haredim to integrate more fully into Israeli civil society in general, and to
share in the burden of defending the country in particular.
for the high hopes that at long last something would change in this sphere was
that the second largest party in the Knesset today – Yesh Atid – placed the
issue high on its election platform, and that when the government was finally
formed last March Yesh Atid seemed to be coordinated on it with Bayit Yehudi,
which has its own issues with the haredim. However, even though the Knesset
Special Committee for the Equal Sharing of the Burden Bill, under the
chairmanship of MK Ayelet Shaked from Bayit Yehudi, is an active committee that
has been meeting at least once a week to deliberate two government bills – one
dealing with the integration of yeshiva students in the IDF, and the other
dealing with alternative civilian service for yeshiva students, and even though
the second bill will actually be brought up today for second and third readings,
it is not at all clear whether the committee’s efforts will manage to change the
current status quo, even by an iota.
If one reads the fascinating minutes
of this committee’s meetings, one can straight away see where the problem lies.
While the secular participants in the deliberations speak to the point, and
raise serious suggestions, the haredi MKs from United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and
Shas, who make a point of regularly appearing at the meetings, only contribute
cynical comments that are in no way designed to facilitate the committee’s work.
The fact that the committee’s chairperson is a woman only complicates matters.
Even though the Civilian Service Bill (which is a temporary order, applicable
only until 2020) is likely to be approved by the Knesset today, it is quite
unlikely that we shall suddenly see thousands of haredim enlisting for civilian
service in the community, or that anyone will try to coerce them into doing
It is anomalous that for the time being the main practical outcome of
all the discussions on the issue of mobilizing more haredim to the IDF will
apparently be that the period of service of Israeli women in the IDF (58 percent
of the Jewish women in Israeli enlist – almost all of them secular; 34% of IDF
personnel are women), will be prolonged, and that of the men, who are subject to
full military service (not including the students of hesder yeshivot, whose
military service is significantly shorter to start off with) will be
Furthermore, while it is not at all clear if and when there
will be a significant increase in the number of haredim serving in the IDF (many
experts say that as long as the haredi society does not undergo serious change
this will never happen) there are plans to increase the percentage of women in
the IDF to 40%. In other words, there will be greater equality in the IDF
between the service of secular men and women – not between seculars and haredim,
nor even between seculars and the national religious, many of whose men serve
for a shorter period than secular men, and very few of whose women do any sort
of military service (though many do national service).
In short, we
should not hold our breath in expectation of change in the sphere of haredi-
secular relations in the course of 2014.
The only hope for the more
distant future is that internal changes within the haredi society – and such
changes are slowly taking place – will result in a change in the approach of a
growing number of haredim to the state, and to their place in it.
writer is a retired Knesset employee.