Underneath the radar – the haredi political revolution

Large segments of Israel’s haredi population have concerns which are not addressed by the current haredi political establishment.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are the center of attention of so many discussions concerning Israel these days. However, the focus and concern in the media and Jewish public life about the haredi role in Israeli society is usually short on awareness of what is really occurring within haredi society itself. The discussions are often inaccurate and sometimes sound like the anthropological observations of outsiders looking into a society they don’t understand. This is a shame because the developments within the haredi community are significant, worthy of attention and will have a serious impact on Israeli society.
An example of the misreading of haredi society is how observers often report and bemoan the power or behavior of haredi political parties while never asking an important question: Do haredi political parties even represent the interests of haredi citizens? I grew up in the world of Poalei Agudath Yisrael, a haredi political movement which considered the building up of all aspects of Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael as vital – Torah learning, the economy, the education system and much more. While these values have remained important for countless people, for years there has been no organization or party giving a public voice to these ideas. This lack of a voice has become more critical as growing numbers of haredim engage with Israeli society.
Large segments of Israel’s haredi population have concerns which are not addressed by the current haredi political establishment. So while thousands of young haredim begin their studies in academic and job training programs this week they do so without assistance or recognition from haredi political leaders. Thousands of other haredim are serving in unique IDF tracks while ignored or condemned by the haredi political establishment.
Government ministries and non-profit organizations are working overtime to plan and implement education, army and job programs impacting haredim. Yet, there is no official haredi response or input, as if ignoring them will make them disappear.
Many haredi citizens are concerned about crowding and discriminatory acceptance policies in their children’s schools.
They want better parks, playgrounds and cleaner neighborhoods but these issues are not priorities of haredi political parties.
Thus a significant disconnect exists between the reality of the life and concerns that many haredim have and the public positions taken by the political parties claiming to speak for them. As increasing numbers of haredim find themselves active in the Israeli economy, army and academic institutions, this gap is widening, leading many to wonder: who do these parties actually speak for? A significant cause of this dissonance is the political parties seeing haredim as having the right to vote, but not the right to choose. But that is changing as many haredim look around and see that their lives do not match the rhetoric of haredi politics. The more they listen to certain self-appointed haredi spokesmen and political “activists,” many haredim realize that their well-being is not on their agenda.
The TOV movement was founded as a successor to Poalei Agudath Yisrael to provide a clear voice for large segments of haredi society whose concerns are not being addressed by the haredi political establishment. It is an authentic address for the growing numbers of haredi Israelis who are involved in society while not compromising their haredi identity. TOV was created from the bottom up. The need existed before the organization was founded.
TOV entered Israel’s political world because experience shows that a political voice is the only method to ensure that the concerns of thousands of Israeli haredim are taken seriously; whether they be about job training or discrimination in the workplace, army service or quality of life issues. It is time that the real needs of haredi citizens be considered as worthy of being addressed. It is an exhilarating experience being a catalyst encouraging many haredi citizens to express their authentic needs and to have faith that real change and improvement is possible.
When we are successful, all of Israel will benefit.The author lives in Har Nof, Jerusalem. He is a veteran educator, secretary-general of Poalei Agudath Yisrael and is the founder of the TOV party which is running in five Israeli municipal elections, including Jerusalem.