Think About It: Bad losers

Will Shas’s political leaders manage to prevent the party from falling apart after the old rabbi is gone?

March 10, 2013 21:47
The Shas triumvirate with the Likud Beytenu team

The Shas triumvirate with the Likud Beytenu team 370. (photo credit: Ya'acov Cohen)

Besides Kadima, that went from 28 to two Knesset seats, the big losers of these elections appear to be Shas and United Torah Judaism, even though they together have 18 seats in the new Knesset compared to 16 in the previous one.

The two haredi parties are the losers because of the two new boys on the block – the head of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, and the head of Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennett. Each for some of the same reasons preferred to see the haredi parties outside the government – and they have prevailed, much to Primer Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chagrin.

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The common reasons are that the haredim (the ultra-Orthodox in particular the Ashkenazi ones) are unwilling to consider any significant increase in the enlistment of their 18-year-olds to the army, even if they are not bona fide yeshiva students, and while refusing to significantly increase their share on the production side of the economy (again, especially the Ashkenazi ones), are the most determined opponents of any decrease in social benefits to large families. These reasons are connected to the idea of “equal bearing of the burden” which is the main glue that keeps Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi together.

The separate reasons for these two parties being interested in keeping the haredim out of the 33rd government include the fact that the national-religious camp (which Bayit Yehudi represents) wishes to regain power positions in the religious establishment, which it has gradually lost to the haredim and hardalim (national religious rabbis who in religious terms have moved closer to the haredim).

The more radical secular camp (which Yesh Atid represents) sees the haredi parties as an impediment to their desire to strengthen rights considered the ABCs of Western liberal society such as equality for women, individual freedom, including freedom from the religious establishment when it comes to citizens’ personal status, public transportation and other services on the Sabbath, etc. On these issues the Yisrael Beytenu component of Likud Beytenu is in total agreement with Yesh Atid.

The haredim have reacted to all this very badly, and seem determined to ignore the objective issues involved.

Instead of addressing the issues the Ashkenazi haredim accuse Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi of anti-Semitism, where “Semites” are defined as Jews with black hats, a beard and sidelocks, while the Sephardim accuse them of ethnic racism against the Mizrahim (both Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi are predominantly Ashkenazi). Though there are certainly no shortage of anti-haredi and anti-Mizrahi prejudices in the Israeli society (the latter especially within the Ashkenazi haredi community), these are definitely not the reason for the insistence on keeping the haredim out of the government.

However what is even worse than the self-righteous haredi claims of anti-Semitism and racism are some of the other elements of their reaction.

The two most outrageous aspects of this reaction are the sudden “discovery” by both Ashkenazi and Sephardi haredim that the answer to Yair Lapid’s rhetoric question “where’s the money?” is “in the settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

In other words, the response to the fear that the “Torah world” will be dried up financially, is to call for the financial drying up of the settlements.

I am not exactly an avid supporter of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and believe that too much money is invested in settlements that are unlikely to remain within the sovereign territory of the State of Israel.

However, I find this sudden ideological switch on the part of the haredim repulsive, to the point of being willing to stand up for the settlements (up to a point).

Another sickening manifestation of haredi cynicism has been the sudden elevation of Shelly Yacimovich to the status of saint. Suddenly the haredim have “discovered” that they are much closer ideologically to Yacimovich than to Netanyahu. Suddenly the spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was willing to swallow his pride and offered to make a pilgrimage to the leader of the only party perceived to have the power to prevent the formation of the Netanyahu-Yair-Naftali-Tzipi government, and that despite the fact that the old rabbi does not believe that women should play public roles.

If the Labor Party had agreed to join the government (and Netanyahu was willing to offer Yacimovich up to “half the kingdom” to do so) the haredim would have been “saved.” But Yacimovich was not game, and refused to go back on her promise to her voters on the issue of refusing to join a government led by Netanyahu. Unfortunately, she is now liable to pay a price for her consistency.

It has been reported that Shas is trying to convince the Arab parties to have one of its triumvirate chosen to the post of leader of the opposition (which has certain perks attached), rather than Yacimovich, who will be the leader of the largest parliamentary group in the opposition.

What will the long-run ramification of all this disgusting behavior be? It is hard to predict. Certainly the haredim in opposition will continue to fight for budgets for their institutions and flocks, and against moves designed to force their youths into the IDF and/or labor market. Besides that, it is difficult to know what will happen. Will the haredi parties undergo a metamorphosis? Will the traditional Ashkenazi haredi leadership give way to a more pragmatic leadership, that will also represent the interests of the so called “modern haredim,” who are trying to make their out of the haredi ghetto? And what will happen to Shas after Rabbi Ovadia, who will probably no longer be with us for the elections to the 20th Knesset? Shas survived the desertion of two of its members, who ran in the elections independently – rabbis Haim Amsalem and Amnon Yitzhak – partially due to the old rabbi’s emotional and tearful appeal to Shas voters before the elections.

Will Shas’s political leaders manage to prevent the party from falling apart after the old rabbi is gone? Will Aryeh Deri return to his former glory, and take Shas to more enlightened destinations? Whatever happens, there certainly won’t be a dull moment, and in the meantime all that is left is to wish the new haredi-less government that will apparently be sworn in later this week all the best – for us all.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

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