Opportunity to right decades of wrong

There is finally a government which does not need the ultra-Orthodox parties in its midst to survive.

Beit Shemesh resident erects Israeli flag 370 (photo credit: picture credits - Menachem Lipkin)
Beit Shemesh resident erects Israeli flag 370
(photo credit: picture credits - Menachem Lipkin)
The motivations for the surprising deal between the Likud and Kadima don’t concern me at all. Politicians jumping sides or changing tones is nothing new. The fact remains that the historic agreement between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz may save the future of Israel.
There is finally a government which does not need the ultra-Orthodox parties in its midst to survive. As a result, the most pressing problem in Israel can and must be addressed by this government in the next 17 months.
Many point to the inability of the middle class to sustain itself as the most pressing issue in Israel today. Others are concerned with the lack of peace or too many concessions toward peace. While all of these are issues which need to be discussed, we are forgetting about the events of this past year when focusing on these issues. Extremism, religious coercion, and unity are the issues which truly threaten our future internally and the new unity government can address these issues for the first time in decades.
We must take the city of Beit Shemesh as a microcosm for the entire country to truly understand this point. Citizens of Beit Shemesh, many of them Likud members, have been turning to Likud MKs for the past two years for help regarding the extremist direction of our city. Many of them wanted to help us but could not get the prime minister on board because he needed a “stable coalition” which meant satisfying the ultra-Orthodox parties.
So, our city continued on its path toward extremism. Then, little girls were the subject of extremist attacks. We figured for sure that would awaken the prime minister to step in and help. We were wrong. “Coalition stability” trumped doing what was right to protect little Jewish girls. Then, I was blessed to be part of a historic rally in Beit Shemesh just a few months ago, in which the entire country stood together in unison against the extremists.
That rally forced the prime minister to direct one of his representatives to invite a group from our city to meet with him. But, alas, Moshe Gafni from the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah party stood before microphones and suggested that the prime minister entering into the issue of the ultra-Orthodox and Beit Shemesh could cause him coalition issues and, in the end, no meeting took place.
How are we in a situation as a country where the national responsibilities are not shared and tens of thousands, way more than can possibly be capable of studying Torah day and night, are exempt from service “because of their Torah study?”
How do we have a situation where we are funding too many young men to study instead of creating a framework for them to study and earn a dignified living? How have we allowed a community to remain isolated to the point that extremism reared its ugly head against little children this past year?
How have we allowed the rabbinate to become so extremist that instead of providing religious services and embracing all Jews, it actually pushes people away from religious practice and Jewish identity? It is because the ultra-Orthodox parties have been the king-makers for most coalitions over the past few decades and have been able to move their isolationist, extremist and self-serving agendas forward.
Well, that is no longer the case. There is finally complete and total “coalition stability.” We now have a coalition which can do whatever it wants to do without regard to the ultra-Orthodox parties. If this government wants to do what is right, it can do so without any fears of Shas and/or United Torah Judaism bolting the coalition. They can be shown the door and perhaps feel the comfort of sitting in the opposition with the anti-Zionist Arab parties.
Let it be clear. Prime Minister Netanyahu has no more excuses. This government empowers him to address the issues which threaten to tear our country apart. He can address the extremism and unfairness with regard to construction in cities like Beit Shemesh because stopping the takeover of an entire city and providing housing for IDF veterans and those who pay taxes is the right thing to do.
He can open the rabbinate to more moderate and Zionistic forces because that will help unify our country and enable people to once again embrace Judaism. He can solve the conversion crisis and fight racism and discrimination because core Jewish values and tradition demand doing so. And the extremist, ultra-Orthodox parties cannot do a darn thing about it.
The next 17 months will demonstrate if this prime minister has core values and concern for the citizens of Israel, or whether he simply wanted to avoid challenges within his party and also go down in history as the prime minister who had the largest coalition ever.
Three nights ago, while Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz were meeting, extremists walked down a street in a Zionistic neighborhood in Beit Shemesh and tore down all Israeli flags from people’s homes and cars. How symbolic! Now is the time for Netanyahu and Mofaz to show whether their agreement was to secure their own political futures or to secure a better future for the citizens of Israel. Did they make this agreement to further shine the spotlight on themselves or was it to lead Israel to become a moderate, Jewish state which is a light onto the nations.
Mr. Prime Minister, which one will it be?
The writer is an ordained rabbi, educator, author and community activist in Beit Shemesh. He is the director of the English Speakers Division of the Am Shalem movement.