Coalition collapse won’t stop haredi enlistment

Haredim are more than just black and white.

Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
How predictable! The largest political coalition in the state’s history collapses in little more than two months. Ninety-four MKs could not agree on the only meaningful issue for which they joined together. But don’t be fooled by what looks on the face of things like a huge lost opportunity.
The reality is that with or without the coalition’s success, the legal process around the replacement of the “Tal Law” is simply another stage in the process of change that we are already experiencing.
Simple justice demands that the situation created more than 60 years ago, under circumstances that are very different to today, whereby blanket deferrals are given to an entire community, be remedied. This remedy should not be created through back room deals and opaque political acrobatics, but by having an honest and open discussion among the groups that find themselves on opposite sides of the barricades.
Underpinning this lays a much more complex societal reality, which requires greater understanding than the current political mess affords: 1) Balancing the blame: All sides are equally to blame for letting this situation become the huge shadow hanging over Israeli society. It may have been convenient for haredi society to pretend that the same social contract created when they were 2 percent of the population could work when they are now 15 percent of the population and rapidly growing. At the same time, governments of all political persuasions have found it convenient to ignore the long-term challenge in favor of short-term political gain. Everyone must act today to ensure we remedy this problem in a genuine and sustainable fashion.
2) Haredim are more than black and white: There is a great dissonance within the haredi community itself. Rather than suffering from multiple-personality disorder, it is going through a series of very complex changes alongside continued growth. On the one hand there are leaders desperately trying to sustain a century-old war with Zionism. On the other hand there are thousands of young haredim serving in the army and getting a university level education. And while some spiritual leaders (or their representatives) issue ever-harsher decrees and stringencies in an effort to keep their flock in line and under control, a growing portion of the haredi street is no longer really paying attention to their rulings. This dichotomy demands a more nuanced approach to what we broadly refer to as the haredi sector.
3) Think long-term to succeed: A problem left to fester for 60 years cannot be solved overnight with any legal magic wand. Instead, changes to legislation must be accompanied by investment in social change.
Discussion between community leaders must take place. Dialogue and consensusbuilding takes time, and without it we risk an even more dangerously divided future.
Let me be clear, I am not suggesting we let things remain as they have been.
However, we can learn something from the classic debate between two schools of thought within the philosophy of science.
One is represented by Karl Popper who suggested that progress is made in an evolutionary manner, whereas Thomas Kuhn claimed that progress comes in a non-linear fashion with more radical shifts than through smooth progress.
When we look at the question of how the haredi community (or more accurately communities) will look in the future, both in relation to themselves and perhaps more important their bilateral relations with the rest of Israeli society, we are caught between these two competing views.
It is clear that change is afoot, both behaviorally and culturally, within the haredi world. At the same time it is frustrating to watch this develop from the outside at what feels like too slow a pace. We naturally feel obliged to attempt to accelerate this process or processes, either with carrot or stick, and yet at the same time we are rightly concerned that this social intervention may end up leading to the opposite of the desired result. Most of all we are outraged by the manipulation of politicians, from all sides, as they play out a script that we all would have been capable of writing for them.
I am deeply optimistic about the developments that we are witnessing, while having to control, like you, my anger at the thought that injustice will continue. It will take time for the situation to change, but in life we can really only worry about the things that we have some control over.
So to encourage the changes already under way, without undermining their momentum or tearing our young nation apart, we must each take responsibility.
Israel and the Jewish people must build a better understanding of one another and the role we each play in our future as a people. Every one of us must find his or her way to be involved in the great debate on how Israeli society should look in 15 or 20 years. We are a privileged generation, but we are called upon to understand more fully the meaning of our own Jewish and Israeli identity and to take control of where it is heading. We simply cannot afford to sustain the status quo.
The writer is chairman of Gesher and managing partner at Goldrock Capital, a private equity firm.