The haredim need to negotiate directly with the people

Perhaps I don’t mean literally negotiate, since there is most likely no single person or group that could represent the populace, but the sentiment is apt nonetheless.

By BARUCH HERSHCOPF
June 17, 2019 20:37
3 minute read.
The haredim need to negotiate directly with the people

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset on May 29. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to successfully form a government next time around, he and the haredim need to bypass Avigdor Liberman and negotiate directly with the people, before the next election. Perhaps I don’t mean literally negotiate, since there is most likely no single person or group that could represent the populace, but the sentiment is apt nonetheless.

Recent polling suggests that there are at least 3-5 Knesset seats-worth of voters for whom the haredi draft bill is a major issue. Much to my surprise, Liberman was not committing political suicide by blocking the formation of the last government. Not only did the electorate, according to the polls, not penalize Liberman for his intransigence, they are rewarding him for holding his ground by doubling his voter share.

While the polling data cannot tell us the whole story, it would seem likely these votes are coming substantially from former Lapid supporters for whom haredi enlistment is a top voting priority. In any case, Liberman has shrewdly tapped this constituency and significantly increased his political power.

Whether the insistence on zero changes in the haredi draft bill reflects Liberman’s personal outlook or simply the cunning of his political instinct, his position is poised to present an even greater challenge to forming a coalition after the next round of voting than it did after the previous election. I believe the only solution to undermining Liberman and successfully forming a right-wing government is for the haredim and Netanyahu to present a detailed haredi contribution plan and sell it directly to the people.

While it might go against many MKs political instincts to put all their cards on the table prior to the election and prior to coalition negotiations thereafter, I believe this is the only way for Likud and the haredi parties to gain the trust of the people. The haredim have to demonstrate, in the details, that they are willing to be contributors to, and not just benefactors of, the Jewish state.

One way is certainly to provide a plan for increased participation in the IDF, and certainly there are some voters for whom this is the only acceptable contribution. But my guess is that there are many more voters who would accept contribution in different ways, whether it be in forms of national service designed especially for haredim or simply increases in haredi employment and business development and the resultant tax revenue generated for the state. Some combination of all these modes of contribution would probably be acceptable to both haredim and the population at large.

 I think there are many in the haredi world who would accept and even be excited about programs that promoted greater integration with the larger society. And, of course, there are those who will not accept, who hold a worldview that cannot tolerate any alteration to the classic haredi lifestyle built around Torah learning as the daily profession.

However, the haredi political leadership must realize that they cannot continue to take funds from Israel, for yeshivot and other expenses, without offering – as a society – something significant in return. This would allow then, that significant numbers of haredim could continue full-time learning as the rock and spiritual anchor of the community while others are freed to make other types of contributions to society.

The haredim, with Netanyahu’s help, should come up with a detailed plan with which they are truly willing to live and simultaneously demonstrates a maximum contribution to society. Once the haredim determine the maximum they can tolerate, they and Netanyahu should do their best to sell the plan to the voters. Only in this way can a right-wing government with strong Jewish values be successfully formed after the next election.

The writer studied at Yeshivas Derech HaMelech in Jerusalem and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in psychology.

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