Haredi family 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Our government just can’t seem to get it right. Time and time again when a new
financial/business related proposal comes into the picture, prejudice for or
against the religious community clouds judgments beyond belief. Two
excellent examples were recently placed on the public agenda, each with its own
The first was the controversial proposal put forth by
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias from the Orthodox Shas party. The
government has authorized the construction of about 5,000 housing units across
the country which will be made available at a discount of NIS 200,000 for those
who meet certain criteria.
Atias was quick to hold a press conference
last week to boast that he was giving preference to IDF veterans despite the
fact that many Shas voters never served in the army, thereby going against his
constituency. The timing of his big announcement was questionable –
coming on the heels of a deplorable statement by Shas leader and Interior
Minister Eli Yishai, criticizing IDF soldiers for not praying during the Second
A closer look at the proposal, however, shows that he’s
pulling the wool over the public’s eyes.
The benefit is awarded based on
a point system which assigns weight to various qualifications. While IDF service
is a factor, the number of years a person has been married is more decisive. For
example, a 33-year-old religious person who never served in the army and does
not work but has been married for 10 years would get considerably more points
than a secular person of the same age who served, holds a job but has only been
married for four years.
We know for a fact that in the religious
community people tend to marry young, so who does Atias think he’s kidding?
less mind-boggling is that this also means the ministry would prefer to give the
benefit to people who, as they are unemployed, are less likely to pay off their
mortgage. Was there any financial thought put into this proposal?
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To be fair,
the government (especially the Finance Ministry) has refused to sign off on this
scheme, but it should be seen as a shameful attempt to push yet another
religious agenda at the expense of the general public.
But there is a
flip-side to that coin. The Communication Ministry, under Moshe Kahlon from the
Likud, is pushing for a directive which would have a negative impact on Internet
Service Providers (ISP) which target or are owned by members of the religious
The Communication Ministry is proposing that in order for a
company to be granted a license to be an ISP, it must provide manned technical
support 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with the exception of Yom Kippur.
ISPs serving the Orthodox communities are calling foul, and rightfully so. These
companies argue that if they are forced to comply with such a regulation, they
will lose their Shabbat-observant customers.
Whether they are right or
wrong is irrelevant; a regulation like this should not be forced down any
business’s throat. The government’s role when it comes to private firms should
be limited to: outlawing unfair business practices and compelling companies to
widely publicize their range of services. That’s it. If a business owner wants
to keep his shop closed on Shabbat, that’s his affair, as long as the customers
are clearly made aware of the policy.
The idea of elected officials
dictating to private enterprises when to provide services is completely
unnecessary and offensive. It reminds me of the disgraceful law, which is
still on the books in parts of the country, making it illegal to employ Jews on
So now we get back to the biases. The constant legislation to
favor or disservice a specific sector of the public shows a genuine contempt for
the country as a whole. While our leaders pay lip service to the idea
that “all Israelis are brothers,” more and more we’re seeing petty,
special-interest politics. If we can’t show respect for the rules and for a free
and open market society and the people who make it up, we are truly losing sight
of what Israel as a democracy should be.The writer is an independent
media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New
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