National religious leadership joins protests

‘Our style will be different, not rude and condescending,’ says Bnei Akiva head.

Haredi protest (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi protest
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nearly three weeks after the first tent was pitched on Rothschild Boulevard, the national religious leadership seems to be officially taking a proactive stance in joining the public outcry, albeit separately from the secular Tel Aviv protest leaders, while at the same time influential rabbis from the sector are having a say on the doctors’ strike.
Bnei Akiva – the flagship of national religious youth movements – along with Im Tirzu, Ra’ananim, Israel Sheli and neighborhood committees have united as the “Forum of 20,” and announced they will be marching in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The name of the forum implies their demand that the government reduce the prices of living by at least 20 percent.
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Some of the first tents pitched on Rothschild were occupied by members of Bnei Akiva, but those left the scene after getting the impression that the protest was motivated by extreme-left political bodies, whose sole wish was to do away with the current regime and its head, noted Yossi Mandel, who is in charge of Bnei Akiva’s post-high school programs.
Such sentiment was what kept many from the Right and religious Zionism away from the Tel Aviv protest. But last week a senior rabbi from the sector, Chief Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who also heads the Tzohar rabbinic movement, said that despite the political elements to the protest, it should be partaken in, since the high cost of living is a problem shared by everyone.
As the protest grew in momentum, popularity and locales, politicians from the Right joined the bandwagon.
“Education, health, welfare and worthy living accommodations are what all the nationalreligious public wants,” MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) posted on his Facebook page Sunday.
“We are part of any protest that calls to reevaluate the distribution of the state’s assets.”
So why did they join just now? “We felt all along that we couldn’t join the protest, which was leading an anti-government line we do not agree upon. They are still unsure exactly what they do want,” Mandel said on Tuesday evening. “At the same time, they are saying harsh things against the government, while not really seeking solutions. We tried to get there, speak with them, offer solutions – but they didn’t want to hear them, they just wanted to protest.
“At the same time, we – as a youth movement active in all parts of the country, are acutely aware of the high cost of living, which is manifest in difficulties some of our members have paying fees and taking part in activities, or daily challenges facing them regardless of the movement.
We want to be part of the movement for change, but one that will bring solutions for a new social order.”
Head of Bnei Akiva in Israel Rabbi Benny Nachteiler said his movement came with a purpose.
“We come with a real statement, that the battle against the high cost of living is one of the duties of the government, and will bring welfare to the people of Israel,” he said. “Our style will be different, not rude and condescending; we won’t demand that the prime minister sit with us in an open studio.”
On Tuesday, director-general of the Yesha Council Naftali Bennett paid a visit to the student’s tent in Tel Aviv and spoke with its leaders.
Itzik Shmuli, head of the students union, said the protests were not about politics.“This isn’t a struggle of the Left or Right, rather over the image of the State of Israel,” he said.
And in another expression of broader social responsibility, the modern orthodox Tzohar rabbinic organization submitted late Tuesday a letter of support to the striking doctors, calling on the prime minister and finance minister to change the working patterns of the doctors. The letter also bore the signature of influential rabbis from different parts of the national religious sector, such as Aharon Lichtenstein, Dov Lior and Haim Druckman.
"Rabbis normally don't get involved in labor disputes, but when it became apparent that some of the issues in question could endanger the lives of patients, the rabbis understood that the Torah also has a say here," said Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav.