Status quo?

Expanding the coalition offers opportunities: to end religious discrimination against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism; to break Orthodoxy’s monopoly of religious services.

Avigdor Liberman speaks to Russian-speaking Jews in synagogue in Brooklyn, New York in 2014 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avigdor Liberman speaks to Russian-speaking Jews in synagogue in Brooklyn, New York in 2014
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Will the addition of Yisrael Beytenu to the government coalition have an impact on the present government’s policy regarding issues of religion and state? It is no secret that Yisrael Beytenu has championed causes such as civil marriage and a more liberal approach to conversions of non-Jewish Israelis. Avigdor Liberman, the party’s chairman, has been a strong supporter of drafting military-age haredi men.
This should come as no surprise. Yisrael Beytenu’s constituency consists of a large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom are not considered Jewish according to Halacha, but who nevertheless tend to be highly patriotic and serve in the IDF in high percentages.
Unfortunately, Yisrael Beytenu’s leader has reportedly agreed to abandon many of his and his constituency’s demands in exchange for the opportunity to join the government and receive the defense portfolio and immigration and absorption portfolio.
One of the conditions reportedly set by United Torah Judaism and Shas for their agreement to allow Yisrael Beytenu to join the coalition is that there will be no attempts to change the status quo. Shas and UTJ have a broad interpretation of what constitutes changing the status quo.
For UTJ and Shas, it is in the name of protecting the status quo that they are calling to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that defends the right of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism to use state-funded mikvaot, including to perform conversions. In the process, the Supreme Court, the last refuge for minority groups seeking protection of their human rights, would be undermined.
In the name of the status quo, UTJ and Shas intend to fight a government decision to open a prayer area at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
This time it is a government decision, not a Supreme Court decision that UTJ and Shas hope to overturn.
The haredi parties also seek to reverse legislation that reduces state funding from haredi schools that do not teach “core curriculum” subjects like math and English.
In the name of the “status quo” another generation of haredi young men will receive an education that does not adequately prepare them for the labor market.
There will also be an attempt to pass a Shabbat bill that seeks to bar commerce altogether on Saturdays – even at cafes, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses, even though these cafes, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses have been operating on Shabbat as part of the same status quo that the haredi parties seek to protect. The bill was already approved by the ministerial committee for legislation, but has yet to be raised for a preliminary vote at the Knesset.
Will Liberman and the other members of Yisrael Beytenu go along with – or refrain from fighting – these legislative initiatives in the name of a distorted interpretation of the “status quo?” We think they should not. We also think that the other non-haredi members of the coalition – Likud, Bayit Yehudi and Kulanu – should fight them as well.
Even if the haredi parties’ understanding of “status quo” is correct, we say throw the status quo to the wayside if upholding it means discriminating against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
If upholding the status quo means using taxpayers’ money to perpetuate a situation in which young haredi men do not receive the education they need to integrate into the labor market, we say do away with the status quo.
Israel’s political system is inordinately susceptible to the whims and demands of small coalition partners. This was true until recently in the present government – which rested on a razor-thin coalition of just 61 MKs out of 120.
Shas and United Torah Judaism are taking advantage of this state of affairs to consolidate a reactionary reading of the “status quo.”
Expanding the coalition by adding Yisrael Beytenu to the government offers opportunities: an opportunity to end religious discrimination against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism; an opportunity to break Orthodoxy’s monopoly of religious services; an opportunity to encourage haredi educational institutions to prepare their students for the labor market.
Yisrael Beytenu’s constituents support these causes.
So do many voters for Likud, Kulanu and even Bayit Yehudi. Will the government?