Last week, MK Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism), said he dreams of blowing up the Supreme Court building with a D-9 armored bulldozer. One would like to dismiss his remarks as little more than a demagogic outburst aimed at excitable young people, but the reality is different.
Pindrus was expressing a deep ideological outlook common among the ultra-Orthodox, a very serious contortion of values that threatens Israeli democracy. Only a determined effort to teach democracy and to introduce core studies into haredi education will, perhaps, be able to save the Court – and with it Israeli democracy – from an explosion.
A long line of polls from recent years have repeatedly shown that the haredi public is the most anti-democratic sector in Israel. Most haredim (81%) would like Israel to be a state governed by Halacha (Jewish law); 72% feel that “Dealing with Israel’s special problems requires a strong leader who will not worry about the Knesset, the media, or public opinion” (versus 44% of secular Israelis); 67% believe that the democratic component of the state is too strong.
The principle of equality, a basic democratic value, is also unacceptable to the haredim. 76% of them feel that Jewish Israelis should have more rights than non-Jews (compared to 20% among secular Israelis). Furthermore, most haredim (65%) do not agree that the state should budget Jewish and Arab localities equally. And finally, haredi trust in the Supreme Court is almost nil – only 5%.
Among the haredim, Pindrus is not alone. Their ideological views stem from a deadly combination of life within a closed religious framework, and a fundamental ignorance of everything related to the state and its institutions. The basic haredi outlook assigns absolute exclusivity to Jewish values in their haredi-literalist-extremist interpretation.
Cultivating those values and negating any other external value are crucial to maintaining the protective walls of holiness haredi society has erected around itself. The commitment to them is the essence of haredi existence and is enforced through a rigid and sometimes cruel community regime.
At the same time, most haredim are completely, or almost completely, free of any basic, systematic familiarity with the state’s institutions and values or with its foundational Jewish-democratic ethos. While some haredi girls learn a little civics as part of an educational program that has been converted, civics studies simply do not exist for haredi boys.
This is how 1.2 million citizens live among us, most of whom are deliberately denied the knowledge that, in all other democracies, civics studies forms the civic backbone of graduates of their education systems.
This state of affairs, along with the haredi community’s rapid demographic growth, poses an ideological threat to Israel as a democratic state. As the haredi sector’s political weight increases and its representatives continue to espouse views that undermine state institutions and democratic values, Israeli democracy will devolve into, at best, a technical democracy, with elections as the sole expression of the state’s democratic character.
This threat may not materialize tomorrow morning, but if democratic Israel does not get a grip on it and begin acting today, things will unfold faster than we expect. A key tool the state can employ to mitigate this tension is the teaching of civics studies in all high schools.
Unless we cultivate a shared core value system for transmission to all Israeli students, the Haredi community’s values will continue to erode Israel’s democratic values, and the atrocious vision of MK Pindrus will materialize before our eyes.
The writer is vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a professor of law at the Peres Academic Center.