Haredi outreach

The ultra-Orthodox are no longer a weak minority in need of affirmative action to protect their unique way of life.

Haredi men in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi men in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Shas and United Torah Judaism are not good losers.
The two parties’ “exile” to the opposition has been accompanied by a wave of publicly expressed selfpity and claims of victimization.
Leading the pack of haredi whiners has been UTJ’s Moshe Gafni and Shas’s Eli Yishai. These two politicians and others charge Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett with singling out the entire haredi population for discrimination and blackballing haredi politicians.
In the days since the realization has sunk in that Shas and UTJ will, apparently, not be part of the next government coalition – at least not immediately – wild, improbable scenarios have been proffered. According to one report, haredi leaders are weighing the option of seeking asylum in a foreign state where their right to continue to study Torah will be respected and where they will not be forced to serve in the IDF along with their fellow Israelis.
Just weeks before the election, Shas’s spiritual patron Rabbi Ovadia Yosef issued an empty threat that if haredi men are obligated to perform mandatory army service, they will emigrate en masse.
Few are the haredi politicians and spokesmen who are willing to recognize that their refusal to compromise on the draft was at the very least a contributing factor in their failure to join a Likud Beytenu-led coalition.
It may be that Lapid preferred a government that did not include the haredim. And it may also be that behind closed doors he told associates that it would hurt him politically if on the day the new government is sworn he is photographed alongside Shas and UTJ MKs.
But if haredi politicians had been willing to accept in principle the idea that haredi exceptionalism must gradually come to an end, Lapid could not have prevented Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from adding the ultra-Orthodox parties to the coalition.
Unfortunately, even Shas, the more moderate of the two parties, refused to accept even one of the most lenient approaches to integrating haredi men into the IDF and national service – the plan backed by Netanyahu and formulated by Prof. Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Regardless of whether or not Lapid and Bennett had made “sharing the burden” central to their demands as part of the coalition negotiations, the incoming government has an obligation to find a suitable replacement for the “Tal Law,” which the High Court of Justice in February 2012 ruled discriminated against the non-haredi public who are obligated to serve a full three years and was, therefore, unlawful.
Did the haredi parties truly expect the government to ignore this ruling and risk being held in contempt of our highest court? Still, it is unfortunate that at least one of the two haredi parties was not successfully incorporated into the coalition, not because there is anything inherently unjust about being “exiled” to the opposition for refusing to compromise on one’s principles as some haredi politicians would have us believe, but because without cooperation, the inevitable integration of haredi men into the IDF and into the labor market will be needlessly delayed.
Sitting in the opposition, the parties would undoubtedly transform the draft issue into a rallying point to galvanize their supporters against any changes in the status quo. It has become clear for some time now that the ultra-Orthodox are no longer a weak minority in need of affirmative action to protect their unique way of life.
Rather, the haredi population is fast becoming one of the largest homogeneous groups in society with significant political and economic power. And with this newfound power comes responsibility to “share the burden” with other segments of society.
Ideally, this sharing of the burden should be negotiated in an atmosphere of cooperation and dialogue, not via coercion and unilateral steps. Perhaps it is not too late for a change of mind. Perhaps the haredi parties can be convinced that it is in their best interests to help gradually integrate their constituents into Israeli society.
As the prime minister noted at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, “We face very great challenges... lowering the cost of living and the cost of housing, equality in sharing the burden and above all major security challenges.”
Only through cooperation and compromise can these challenges be met. Netanyahu should make another attempt to reach out to the haredim.
But even if that effort proves unsuccessful, the process of achieving parity in the sharing of our national burden must proceed.