Think About It: Unresolved issues of 2013

One of the fascinating features of Israeli reality is the fact that there isn’t an economic, social or political problem which doesn't get aired out openly.

Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
One of the fascinating features of Israeli reality is the fact that there isn’t an economic, social or political problem or malfunction, no matter how complicated or embarrassing, which does not get aired out openly and thoroughly in the media, and subsequently in the Knesset.
However, this in itself does necessary lead to solutions, or to change, and most of the problems and malfunctions linger on unresolved.
The main reason for this is the large number of issues, and the ideological and religious schisms in society, which are the main cause of many of our governability problems. So “the dogs bark, while the caravan goes on.”
Unfortunately, the fact that 2013 was an election year, and that following the elections a very different government to the previous one was formed, did not manage to break the familiar pattern. Perhaps things would be different if our prime minister were not fully committed to only two issues – stopping Iran from turning nuclear and keeping together his coalition – but at this stage it is difficult to imagine Binyamin Netanyahu committing himself to revolutionary change in any other sphere unless it is imposed on him.
One of the nagging issues which were aired out and discussed ad nauseam in the course of 2013, and regarding which real progress appears to have taken place, is that concerning the so-called tycoons in general, and Nochi Dankner in particular. On December 9 the Anti-Conglomerates Law was passed by the Knesset, promising to bring the scandalous financial pyramids to an end, and on December 17 the Tel Aviv District Court approved a bailout plan for the IDB conglomerate,which leaves Dankner out of the picture.
Most of the other issues aired out in the course of 2013 didn’t fare as well, and are unfortunately unlikely to fare any better in 2014.
These issues include the ever-mounting housing and food prices and the public health crisis, which are both the result of our unbridled “free market” economy and its perversions; the outrageous conduct of the workers committees in the sea ports of Ashdod and Haifa and violent gang-wars among “crime families,” which leave one with the sad impression that there is complete anarchy in too many spheres (ein din ve’ein dayan); and the total refusal of the government to seek a humane solution to the problem of the African refugees and job seekers, or confront outbursts of xenophobia and racism against them.
Even the issue of the so-called “ethnic demon,” involving the ongoing discrimination against Israelis of Mizrahi origin, on which TV Channel 10 recently focused in a series of excellent investigative reports, which raised a wave of concerned reactions, appears to have been returned to the pigeonhole where it usually resides, while Channel 10 itself has reverted to its unconscious practice of strengthening negative stereotyping of Mizrahim in reality programs such as Hayafa Vehakhnun (the beauty and the nerd) where most of the “beauties” are dumb, ignorant (bleached) blonds of Mizrahi origin, and all the nerds, with their peculiarities and high IQs, are Ashkenzim – many of them Russian immigrants. This is certainly no way to fight ethnic discrimination, or to try to get prejudiced Ashkenazim to change their attitude toward the Mizrahim.
AMONG ALL the daunting issues awaiting resolution, there is one regarding which there were particularly high hopes that some breakthrough would be achieved in the course of 2013, and which seems further away from a solution than ever. This concerns the question of getting the haredim to integrate more fully into Israeli civil society in general, and to share in the burden of defending the country in particular.
The reason for the high hopes that at long last something would change in this sphere was that the second largest party in the Knesset today – Yesh Atid – placed the issue high on its election platform, and that when the government was finally formed last March Yesh Atid seemed to be coordinated on it with Bayit Yehudi, which has its own issues with the haredim. However, even though the Knesset Special Committee for the Equal Sharing of the Burden Bill, under the chairmanship of MK Ayelet Shaked from Bayit Yehudi, is an active committee that has been meeting at least once a week to deliberate two government bills – one dealing with the integration of yeshiva students in the IDF, and the other dealing with alternative civilian service for yeshiva students, and even though the second bill will actually be brought up today for second and third readings, it is not at all clear whether the committee’s efforts will manage to change the current status quo, even by an iota.
If one reads the fascinating minutes of this committee’s meetings, one can straight away see where the problem lies. While the secular participants in the deliberations speak to the point, and raise serious suggestions, the haredi MKs from United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas, who make a point of regularly appearing at the meetings, only contribute cynical comments that are in no way designed to facilitate the committee’s work. The fact that the committee’s chairperson is a woman only complicates matters. Even though the Civilian Service Bill (which is a temporary order, applicable only until 2020) is likely to be approved by the Knesset today, it is quite unlikely that we shall suddenly see thousands of haredim enlisting for civilian service in the community, or that anyone will try to coerce them into doing so.
It is anomalous that for the time being the main practical outcome of all the discussions on the issue of mobilizing more haredim to the IDF will apparently be that the period of service of Israeli women in the IDF (58 percent of the Jewish women in Israeli enlist – almost all of them secular; 34% of IDF personnel are women), will be prolonged, and that of the men, who are subject to full military service (not including the students of hesder yeshivot, whose military service is significantly shorter to start off with) will be shortened.
Furthermore, while it is not at all clear if and when there will be a significant increase in the number of haredim serving in the IDF (many experts say that as long as the haredi society does not undergo serious change this will never happen) there are plans to increase the percentage of women in the IDF to 40%. In other words, there will be greater equality in the IDF between the service of secular men and women – not between seculars and haredim, nor even between seculars and the national religious, many of whose men serve for a shorter period than secular men, and very few of whose women do any sort of military service (though many do national service).
In short, we should not hold our breath in expectation of change in the sphere of haredi- secular relations in the course of 2014.
The only hope for the more distant future is that internal changes within the haredi society – and such changes are slowly taking place – will result in a change in the approach of a growing number of haredim to the state, and to their place in it.The writer is a retired Knesset employee.