A View from Israel: Winds of change

Can the country’s citizens unify in a joint effort to prepare a better future for everyone?

By ISRAEL KASNETT
March 15, 2013 17:24
Shas leaders meet with President Shimon Peres.

Peres and Shas 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
– John F. Kennedy

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson

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For obvious reasons, the top headlines of recent weeks have been centered on the forming of the new government coalition. Compared to past post-election occasions, this frenzy is different. Instead of fighting solely over which party gets which ministry, this time there are actual demands being made that need to be met in order to move forward. The draft, the number of ministers, the Palestinian issue and the electoral threshold have all been made central focal points in determining what the coalition will look like.

And with each new development, it seems as if the summer 2011 social protests and the recent election have truly borne fruit. The public may finally receive the change it wants.

Instead of waiting until the government is formed and then attempting to implement change, this time Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi appear to have gotten a jump-start on their campaign promises to introduce real change on important issues by making it a critical condition to their joining the coalition.

It’s easy to get caught up in group-think and go with the flow. While many government officials ask, “If everything appears to be going smoothly, why change anything?” the public has lost patience with this debilitating attitude and now demands immediate change and improvement. The January 22 election highlighted public discontent with the present state of the country’s internal affairs, and it seems as though change is on the way.

Of course, not everyone agrees with change. Shas’s Arye Deri has made it clear that he is displeased with the demands being made by Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi to introduce change. The haredim are happy with the status quo. With Shas and United Torah Judaism in the government, there is funding for schools and yeshiva boys get to sit and study.

But sometimes change is necessary. Sometimes, change can introduce something better. The poverty cycle that exists and is encouraged in haredi society must come to an end. I don’t want to be constantly approached by haredi men looking for rides because they can’t afford public transportation. I want them to have the opportunity to earn a living and live in dignity. And I have no doubt that many of these people feel the same way, but are uncomfortable looking for a job out of fear of what their community will think.

Ultimately, this may be a good opportunity for Shas and UTJ to join the opposition and reflect on where they are leading their constituency.

In an interview on Sunday, UTJ’s Ya’acov Litzman appeared to say that the Likud-Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi parties would not be easily forgotten for leaving the haredim out of the government, explaining that they cannot harm the haredim and then expect to be friends.

He even said the “herem” (excommunication) against Netanyahu may last for a while.

Deri also lashed out and blamed Netanyahu for excluding the haredi community and abandoning the weaker sectors of society.

He wrote, “An absurd situation has arisen in which legitimate political movements in Israel can openly declare that two million people should be excluded from government just because that’s what makes them comfortable.”

But Deri has it wrong. The nation is indeed fed up with the status quo. It is the fact that Shas and UTJ consistently threaten the government over budgetary issues and education that makes the rest of this country uncomfortable.

We live in a democracy and sometimes one party or another must sit in the opposition. This time it’s their turn.

It is time for leading rabbis to declare a change in their community and their way of life. Gone should be the days when living in poverty was considered an achievement or even acceptable. The haredi world needs to take this opportunity to create a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) and demonstrate unity among Jews. They have the capability to cross bridges and connect with non-haredi Israelis.

And I know this because I see them whenever I go to the hospital or pass a soup kitchen. There they are, breaking down walls of social separation, visiting the sick and handing out treats to young patients, whether secular or haredi or somewhere in between.

The haredim have got it. They have the building blocks for social cohesion – for sparking a connection with the rest of society. If they can reach out to everyone else through charity and kindness, they can certainly reach out when it comes to sharing the burden, defending the country and paying taxes.

But this isn’t only about haredim. The social protests were also about lowering the cost of living and bringing down housing prices. And there are plenty of other issues that need to be dealt with as well.

As reported in The Jerusalem Post earlier this week, Police Chief Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino said on Tuesday that “youth violence is the No. 1 threat” and that it was “equal to external threats,” such as terror threats on Israel’s borders. He lamented the state of today’s youth, noting that much of the spike in violence in Israeli society is emanating from teenagers and young adults.

Numerous other challenges face our small country and we need to make changes on the ground in order to tackle them.

With US President Barack Obama visiting this coming week, it is imperative that the country’s representatives in the Knesset decide that cohesion and unity are important in order to properly confront the economic, security, domestic, political and diplomatic challenges we face.

It is time to change. It is time for the public to help introduce the change it desires.

It is said that “Your present circumstances are the result of your past thinking and your future will be the result of what you are thinking now.”

Let’s grab the future by its horns, implement changes for the better and further develop a cohesive society.

Shas and UTJ take note: Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together.


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