Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
We usually associate existential threats against the State of Israel with our external enemies – Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. But a quiet, though no less catastrophic internal threat that threatens our very existence as a Jewish state reappeared this week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new ultra-Orthodox-led government is on course to cause significant damage to the internal soul of Israel. This is a sad week for Israel.
It is a sad week for the agunot in Israel – women whose husbands refuse to give their wives a divorce. Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox-led coalition will not even consider their plight, and will not assist in finding solutions to free them from their hopeless situation. This attitude reflects a lack of compassion that eats away at the soul of our nation.
It is a sad week for hundreds of thousands of Russians with a Jewish father or grandfather, who moved to Israel in the 1990s under the Law of Return, but are not halachically Jewish because they don’t have a Jewish mother. Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox-led coalition plans to undo the progress that was made in the 19th Knesset regarding conversion, essentially shutting the door on any hope of those Russians and their children converting to Judaism.
This is a travesty for those who suffered in the former Soviet Union because they were viewed as Jews, and who are now willing to die to protect the Jewish state. It also creates major problems for the rest of Israel: their children speak Hebrew, have Jewish names, serve in the IDF, attend Israeli universities and their children will inevitably meet our children. If they don’t convert now, Israel will face a massive crisis of intermarriage in the coming years.
It is a sad week for millions of secular Israelis who seek a connection to Judaism and to the meaning behind a Jewish state, but who have been pushed out by the religious establishment.
Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox-led coalition has a stated goal of undoing all recent attempts to improve the religious establishment’s effectiveness in making their services more accessible and appealing to the secular population.
This will lead to more and more secular Israelis questioning the unfriendly religious environment – and whether it is even worth living here at all.
It is a sad week for tens of thousands of young ultra-Orthodox men and hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox children. Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox- led coalition plans to restore funding to religious seminaries that the previous government shifted to provide these young men with career training and job placement. This will close the door for many haredim who seek to join the work force and support their families with dignity.
Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox-led coalition will also roll back the progress that was made to include basic general studies in ultra-Orthodox schools.
Hundreds of thousands of children will thus be robbed of the tools they will require when they become adults, and look to earn an academic degree and entrance into the job market upon realizing the challenges of raising a family in poverty.
Netanyahu won the recent election because Israelis were concerned about their security. History has proven that many great states fell because of an erosion of a national soul. Sooner or later Israelis are going to have to confront what type of Israel they are trying to protect. Are we here simply to be here? What are we fighting for? Where are we headed as a people? Who are we if we sit back and do nothing while agunot suffer, and reject new immigrants who fight and die to protect us? What does it mean for the soul and viability of the country if half the population feels detached from Judaism and the need for a Jewish state, while the other half remains largely uneducated, untrained to enter the workforce and uninterested in serving the state? Hopefully in the coming years, beginning with this sad week for so many in Israel, we will do some serious soul searching and conclude that we must deal with this internal threat to our collective soul and existence before it is too late.
The writer served as an MK for Yesh Atid in the last Knesset.