The misleading (and backfiring) campaign against haredim

“I work, I pay taxes, but I usually don’t vote because we don’t believe in the values of the secular state,” he explained.

Ultra Orthodox men in Israel (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ultra Orthodox men in Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman had been dueling during this election campaign over who should receive the anti-ultra-Orthodox vote. The rhetoric about money that ultra-Orthodox parties take from the rest of Israel, and rabbis taking control over Israel, is meant to attract voters. But in actuality, the message and tone has served to embolden the haredi parties, and to inspire ultra-Orthodox voters to support those parties in higher numbers than ever before.
A young haredi man with whom I partner on employment initiatives in the haredi community told me he had not even considered voting for an ultra-Orthodox party. “They don’t represent my values, and I believe they do damage to the ultra-Orthodox population,” he explained. “But now, after the attacks against the community that I come from, and the horrific generalizations made by Lapid and Liberman during this campaign – attacks that ignore the tens of thousands of haredim who work, pay taxes and serve the country – I am going to vote for United Torah Judaism, and many of my colleagues and friends plan to do the same.”
Remarkably, I am hearing a similar message even from extreme elements in the haredi community. A Toldos Avraham Yitzhak Hassid who doesn’t usually participate in Israeli elections for ideological reasons is planning to vote because of the incitement against the community.
“I work, I pay taxes, but I usually don’t vote because we don’t believe in the values of the secular state,” he explained. “But I now feel under attack, and need to make sure the haredi parties are strong to insure that we will be able to continue living our way of life here.”
He said those in his community who follow the media and have seen and heard the anti-haredi rhetoric are considering doing the same.
Aside from the attacks against the haredi community likely backfiring – with the haredi parties ending up stronger than they were after the April election – the “facts” being presented in the anti-haredi rhetoric are simply false.
TWO EXAMPLES: Israel’s national budget for 2019 is NIS 479 billion. The budget for the Religious Affairs Ministry – a ministry that I disagree with on many issues and believe needs serious reform – is NIS 677 million. That comes out to 0.14% of the national budget.
Just to give this a sense of proportion: The budget for the Public Broadcast Authority, which has just 2.6% viewership, is NIS 740 million.
A second example is the budget for the religious seminaries – yeshivot and kollelim. They receive NIS 1.2 billion from the state, just 0.25% of the budget. If we combine the budget for the Religious Affairs Ministry and ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, it doesn’t even reach one-half of 1% of the overall state budget, and less than the state’s culture and sport budget!
So when these politicians suggest that Israel does not have funds for education and its hospitals because of the ultra-Orthodox parties, they are spreading falsehoods simply to gain votes at the expense of the country’s perception of the ultra-Orthodox population.
The suggestion that anyone is trying to change Israel into a theocracy run by the rabbis is also misleading. While I disagree with many of the ultra-Orthodox political party policies – including the “status quo” arrangement of religion and state – and fight against some of those policies on a near-daily basis, the ultra-Orthodox parties are not seeking to force religion on anyone in Israel, but are simply fighting to maintain the prior agreements reached on this issue. Painting them in a demonizing manner and telling the public that they want to impact their private lives is simply wrong.
It amazes me how leaders of significant political parties can be so out of touch with the realities on the ground in Israel. The haredi community is integrating more and more into Israeli economic life, with initiatives to teach children English, new high schools that include full general studies, consistently growing numbers expressing interest in IDF or national service, and record numbers in higher education and seeking employment. Broader Israel is also showing increased interest in tradition, with Kabbalat Shabbat services and Torah study sessions increasing in high numbers among “secular” Israelis.
Instead of polarizing Israel over issues relating to the ultra-Orthodox population and religion, true leaders should stop playing politics and instead focus on encouraging the positive steps taking place in Israeli society, both regarding religious integrating into society, and the secular embrace of more Jewish learning and tradition.
Politicians use polarizing tactics. Leaders seek unity.
The writer served as a member of the 19th Knesset.