Last week, a secular woman in a playground in Ramat Gan started screaming at a group of haredi girls from nearby Bnei Brak, who had entered the playground with their mothers or kindergarten teachers) and were allegedly responsible for breaking a swing: “How disgusting, all you know how to do is bring piles of children. You are just like termites. We pay NIS 4 million for apartments here. You do not belong here – you have your own city.”
There is no excuse for such language, even if there is a dispute about children from Bnei Brak coming to play in Ramat Gan playgrounds, and we do not know whether this incident was the tip of an iceberg or a purely isolated event.
The incident was condemned by all and sundry, though it is but one of the numerous daily manifestations of superfluous public violence – both verbal and physical – which frequently do not receive any sort of comment unless they happen to end in fatalities.
Even our future prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “what a disgusting statement. I strongly condemn the shocking antisemitic verbal violence, against the haredi public.” However, he accused Prime Minister Lapid and Finance Minister Liberman of incitement against the haredim, which he claimed had led to the incident.
Unfortunately, we did not hear Netanyahu condemn disgusting statements made by members of his own party and camp (not to mention his beloved son Yair), who use outrageous libelous language about the opposite camp, its leaders and organizations that mirror its ideological principles. He is even considering appointing as the permanent speaker of the Knesset a member of his party who has a mouth like a cesspit and keeps attaching nicknames to members of the opposite camp, that make termites sound like an endearment.
We also didn’t hear him condemn MK Miri Regev, who he is considering being appointed as education minister, who called the housing minister in the outgoing government “Shawish” (a derogatory word for servant in Arabic), while laughing her head off. I wonder what Regev thinks of our prospective housing minister from Torah Judaism – Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf – who has recently made some bizarre statements about core studies while questioning whether Israel is suffering from a housing crisis.
Against this surrealistic background, the new government is to be formed by next Monday, although Netanyahu hopes to complete his mission by the end of this week. So far, we more or less know who the ministers on behalf of the Likud’s coalition partners will be and we know the identity of some of the prospective Likud ministers, though there are more question marks than exclamation marks about the specific ministries they will receive.
We were informed last Thursday that a coalition agreement had been signed with Torah Judaism, but then it transpired that there are still differences of opinion between the two components of Torah Judaism – the hassidic Agudat Yisrael, and the Litvak Degel Hatorah – and that the agreement had been signed with Agudat Yisrael only.
Besides Goldknopf being appointed as housing minister, and MK Moshe Gafni as chair of the Knesset Finance Committee, Torah Judaism will receive another full ministerial position, three deputy ministerial positions and another three chairmanships of Knesset committees.
Among the issues allegedly agreed on with Torah Judaism that we know of, is a major increase in the financial assistance by the state for the haredi education systems, without it being conditioned on the introduction of more hours of core studies into them. For the first time the financing for the haredi education systems will be part of the state budget and not coalition funds.
More money into haredi society
WE ALSO know that there will be more money invested in haredi housing (possibly adding another haredi city), and more designated transportation services for the haredi public, while the practice of providing the needy (many of them haredi families) with rechargeable, prepaid food cards, will be returned after the outgoing government had done away with them.
In general, it seems as though most of the achievements of the outgoing government on issues affecting the haredi community – such as the kashrut reform, which sought to get rid of the corruption in this field; the cellular reform which tried to weaken the power of the committee of rabbis over kosher cellphones; the raising of the purchase tax on drinks containing sugar, and disposable cutlery and eating utensils; and an improvement in the status of the Reform Movement concerning conversions in Israel and prayer arrangements at the Western Wall – will now go down the drain.
On issues such as public transportation on Saturday the status quo will be preserved and prospects of introducing such transportation in secular regions, towns and cities will be thwarted.
Finally, it has been agreed that a new Basic Law will be passed – Basic Law: Study of the Torah – that in practical terms will place the study of the Torah (nothing is said about the rest of the Bible) on par with service in the IDF, and together with a new enlistment law that will exempt haredim from military service altogether, and an overriding clause that will enable the Knesset to override any High Court of Justice ruling that will try to interfere with the new arrangement, will change the status quo concerning the military service of the haredim.
Basic Law: Study of the Torah, was first brought up in the Knesset in 2018 by an MK from Shas. It symbolizes a shift in the attitude of the haredim to Basic Laws, which according to the Harari amendment from 1950, are considered to constitute chapters in a future constitution. For decades the haredim objected to anything having to do with a constitution, claiming that in the Halacha the Jewish people already have a constitution.
However, the proposed basic law is liable to come across harsh opposition from the non-religious population, which considers it to be a major breach in the religious status quo, and whose main purpose is to free haredim not only from participating in carrying the defense burden, but also from all possible alternatives, such as national service of various sorts or service in their own community.
In fact, what is totally missing from the agreement is any real progress towards the greater integration of the haredi community into the Israeli mainstream society, not only in the sphere of military service, but also in the sphere of employment, and a more significant contribution to the state economy. Without a serious shift in the haredi attitude to non-religious education, within several decades, when the haredim will constitute around a third of the population, in many spheres Israel’s standing in the world will deteriorate.
One gets the impression that Netanyahu and his negotiating team did nothing to counter their almost complete submission to most of the haredi demands (many of which are admittedly justified), with demands that place the interests of the future of Israel in the first place.
I certainly did not expect Netanyahu to try to mobilize the haredim to save Israel’s endangered liberal democracy, to which he himself poses a threat. However, he speaks a lot about Israel’s sources of power and I did expect him to try to increase the haredi contribution to this purpose.
The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.