The upcoming elections are about the future of Israel

While the coalition negotiations ostensibly fell because of the Draft Bill, written by senior IDF staff in consultation with rabbis and other civic leaders.

August 8, 2019 21:58
WHAT DOES the future hold?

WHAT DOES the future hold?. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Since the failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to garner a workable coalition in May, many Israeli commentators have suggested that the upcoming elections in September will focus on the issue of “religion and state.”

This could not be further from the truth. The real issue is about equalizing Israeli society for all of its members and ensuring that in a generation or so, our children and grandchildren are not faced with insoluble and insurmountable burdens because we failed to act.

While the coalition negotiations ostensibly fell because of the Draft Bill, written by senior IDF staff in consultation with rabbis and other civic leaders, that has become merely a symptom of the malaise.

This law was a major compromise for Yisrael Beytenu, which, a number of years ago, wrote a simple law which stated that all Israelis at the age of 18 years old regardless of background have to serve in either the military or civilian service.

So for the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) political leadership to reject out of hand a law that would have mandated a small percentage of their youth to serve in the army and defend our homeland and its people, when these targets are largely being met, it is clear that their abject stubbornness reflects a deep underlying issue.

We saw this further when we understood the dozens of other unreasonable and dangerous demands that they had made and been accepted by Netanyahu in the coalition agreements between the Likud, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas.

At a time when every government ministry has had to reduce its expenditure, like for health and social services, the ultra-Orthodox political leaders were demanding tens of billions of shekels for their community. These hand-outs have been steadily increasing over the years and the demands made and accepted in the most recent coalition agreement would make anyone’s eyes water if they were released to the public, which – of course – they never are.

Then there was the overreach into the public space that ripped to shreds the status quo on religious matters that has been maintained for decades and is usually a precarious balance at the best of times.

Just a few choice examples include Netanyahu’s acceptance of the ultra-Orthodox demand to allow for gender segregation in public spaces; the demand for the Housing Ministry to be in the hands of UTJ so the ultra-Orthodox can receive exclusive and preferential housing development at the cost of all others; preventing any work from taking place on Shabbat on Israel’s roads or transportation system even if it could save lives; placing greater obstacles towards conversion and marriage; and emboldening the cycle of poverty from within their community continues by ensuring that even schools that refuse to provide a basic education to its students will still be state funded.

There is nothing religious about any of these demands – in fact, one could make a solid argument based on Jewish law against each one of them.

The demands are about control and dominance, of the general ultra-Orthodox community that is increasingly looking to become more integrated and self-sufficient, and over the general Israeli public, whether religious, traditional or secular.

Yisrael Beytenu’s answer is not to take religion out of the public space or attack Judaism, it is to return the national state religious institutions to the moderate national-religious community, which serves in the army and contributes to our society.

In fact, if one looks at the pattern of decisions over the years, it is clear that Yisrael Beytenu is the only party which has actively taken the side of the national-religious community over the ultra-Orthodox on almost every matter, even when its own supposed representatives sided with the haredim time after time.

YISRAEL BEYTENU was the only party that supported Rav David Stav for the position of chief rabbi. It was the party that wrote and proposed the Tzohar Bill that allowed couples to be registered with any municipal rabbi and not be beholden to the local rabbi who might use this for their advantage. It was the party that wanted the IDF chief rabbi to be allowed to complete conversions for soldiers undergoing conversion programs while serving in the army, and we propose the decentralization on a host of issues like marriage, kashrut and conversion and provide greater powers to municipal rabbis.

Many in Yisrael Beytenu, like Avigdor Liberman, have close members of their family who are observant and religious, and live in mixed towns and neighborhoods. From these experiences, we have developed a philosophy of religious moderation and “live and let live.”

Nevertheless, more than we want to see greater unity and moderation as opposed to division and extremism, the future of Israel could rest on what type of governments are formed in the near future.

Even the neutral Central Bank of Israel has warned that economic growth could seriously slow down if the issue of integrating more ultra-Orthodox into the workforce is not addressed.

If the trends continue, our children and grandchildren could wake up to a scenario whereby their burden will be so great that they could buckle under the economic pressure of paying taxes not only for themselves, but also a rapidly growing segment that receives but does not contribute.

There are a lot of challenges bound up in this issue, but the bottom line is that we have to deal with this now and not kick the can down the road anymore hoping that someone else will deal with it. That is irresponsible and the antithesis of what elected officials should be doing.

We need to equalize the burden, contribution and service. We need to stand up for a moderate Judaism which unites rather than divides, and we need to stand up to those who put their own petty interests before the collective needs of Israeli society.

The writer is a member of Knesset and chair of the Yisrael Beytenu Knesset Faction.

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