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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Issues in coalition negotiations don't include Iran or the 'Palestinians'

Perhaps surprisingly to many people outside of Israel, the coalition negotiations for a new government are unlikely to revolve around either the Iranian nuclear threat or the stillborn negotiations with the 'Palestinians.' That's because most Israeli Jews agree that Iran is a problem with which we will have to deal ourselves, and that there is currently no partner for peace on the 'Palestinian' side. Indeed, the only party calling for negotiations with the 'Palestinians' in this election was the Tzipi Livni party.

The real issues in these negotiations involve what's euphemistically referred to as 'equal distribution of the burden.' Israel is between a rock and a hard place over the large number of males who do not serve in the IDF. While the numbers of those who do not serve is substantial (it's rumored to be as high as 50%), the two most visible groups whose men for the most part do not serve are 'Israeli Arabs' and Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews).

The Left won't say it, but they don't really want the Arabs to serve either, for obvious reasons.

In the last decade, the Supreme Court decided that the government could not just look the other way at Haredi non-service and so in 2002, the Tal Law was passed. The Tal Law, which was extended in 2007, authorized a continuation of the exemption to yeshiva students subject to the conditions within the law. According to the law, at the age of 22, yeshiva students had a "decision year" and could an choose between one-year civil service alongside a paying job or a shortened 16-month military service and future service in the reserves as an alternative to continuing to study. The Tal Committee, which recommended the law, hoped that the less onerous (than three full years service) alternatives would entice the students to leave the yeshivas and go out to work. But most of the students continued to study in yeshiva during the 'decision year' and afterward.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional (how the Supreme Court can rule a law unconstitutional in a country that doesn't have a constitution is an issue for the legal scholars...). The previous government made some half-hearted attempts to resolve the issue, and eventually decided to go to new elections.

The coalition negotiations are starting from the parties' entrenched positions.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman echoed the talking points of Yair Lapid's newly-powerful Yesh Atid in an Thursday morning interview with Army Radio, saying that the coming government will focus on domestic issues such as equalizing the burden of IDF service, high commodity prices, and affordable housing.
His comments came as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began the process of building a new government, and could indicate that the number two on the Likud Beytenu list would prefer a coalition with Center-Left parties over one with haredi parties.
"We will concentrate on domestic issues," Liberman said. "This government, if it wants to succeed, must concentrate on issues of the broad public."
Shas chairman Eli Yishai, meanwhile, told Army Radio that he was adamant that his party would not compromise on its core values, which include allowing yeshiva students to continue their studies in lieu of IDF service.
"We would never agree to the Plesner recommendations," Yishai said, referencing the Kadima party's unsuccessful 2012 attempt to resolve the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment. "It's not realistic to come and say we will draft everybody. The haredim will come as one and say 'we'll go to jail.'"
The issue will most likely put him at odds with both Lapid and Liberman, who are focused on altering the status quo on the issue.
I'm not going to get into solutions in this post, because the post is going to be way too long as it is. I set out what I believe to be the ultimate solution in a post I wrote more than five years ago, and I continue to believe that is ultimately the solution. My purpose here is to set out the problems, and why they are so difficult to resolve. I'm going to offend everyone....

1. Not every boy in yeshiva is in line to become one of the great rabbis of the generation. But not every boy in yeshiva is wasting his time either. Some - many - are serious Torah scholars. But there are also some whose names are 'carried on the books' for purposes of avoiding the draft (and there are even institutions that are known to be amenable to doing that).

2. The Haredim believe with all their hearts and souls that boys and men who are studying Torah are doing as much to protect the country as the army. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War - most of which took place during the yeshiva intersession - there were many, many boys who continued to study full time despite the intersession. 'Full time' means more than eight hours a day. It's probably 14-16 hours per day.

3. Not everyone in the army is risking their lives in a combat position. In fact, most of them aren't. There are units that are classified as combat units because of political considerations when in fact all the soldiers do is work at a computer.

4. If their rabbis instruct them to do so, every Haredi yeshiva boy will go to jail rather than serve in the army. This is not an idle threat. It's reality. There are not enough jail cells in the country to hold them all.

5. We can talk all we want about cutting off all of the state's excessive welfare benefits for those who do not serve in the army. But for the most part, the Supreme Court has struck down efforts to do so because they are also seen as discriminating against the Arabs. And those Haredim who are truly dedicated to Torah study are willing to live in poverty in order to be able to continue to do so (I already know dozens of people like that). Cutting off welfare benefits is not a threat to many of them. They don't care about the country's poverty statistics. A corollary: Unless you are willing to re-institute slavery, you cannot force someone to work and you cannot force them to serve in the army. But the way this country works, there is very little you can do to cut off the financial benefits resulting from their failure to do so.

6. We are among the most highly taxed countries in the world with an intolerably high. There are three reasons for this:
One is that we hand out way too many government benefits and brook too many monopolies and oligopolies. 'Socialism' is not yet a dirty word here. One of the reasons high tech has flourished here is that it's one of the very few ways to get rich without being born into it.

Second, much of our economy is 'black.' It's done in cash, under the table, and no taxes are paid by either side to many transactions. That cuts across all social strata, ethnic groups and classes in this country - seculars, Haredim and Arabs.

Third, the country's security doesn't come cheap.

7. Even Haredim who want to leave the yeshiva and go to the army face four issues: 
The first is the lack of male-only frameworks for army service, particularly for 18-21-year olds. While this had largely been resolved by the creation of Nachal Charedi (which is the largest unit in the IDF now), a lot of mistrust remains, as a result of the IDF's (willful or otherwise) failure to abide by its commitments to its Haredi soldiers. Pretending that the Haredim (or for that matter any religious soldiers) can be treated like everyone else (as some of the commenters on that post did) is a recipe for failure.

Second, creating conditions under which Haredim would be willing to serve is expensive and disruptive for the IDF. For example, food with 'better' supervision is more expensive, but Haredim will not eat (and they will not be effective soldiers without eating) food with ordinary non-'Mehadrin' levels of supervision. I know people who buy nothing but raw ingredients and make all of their own food, and I know many people for whom only one supervision is acceptable. Taking part of the army out of commission to give more time for prayers or the Sabbath off is disruptive when much of the army doesn't ask for or need those concessions. No, I'm not talking about doing those things under battle conditions, but it's still costly under ordinary training conditions. Moreover, soldiers are entitled to higher salaries and benefits if they are married, and even higher if they have children. Haredim tend to marry young and have lots of children (for reasons that have nothing to do with the army or with the paltry National Insurance Institute handouts every month - which by the way are given irrespective of income).

Third, there is no doubt that the spiritual level - particularly of an 18-21-year old male with hormones in full bloom - is going to decline when he leaves the study hall, and for the first time in his life is in closed quarters with secular Jews and non-Jews, let alone being in a unit with women. Being in a unit with women is considered a sin for which one must sacrifice one's life in the Haredi world, and while certain commenters will rant and rave about that line until they're blue (or red) in the face, it's not going to change. We ignore it at the peril of any solution.

Fourth, as a result of all of the above, there is a stigma (often unjustified, but a stigma all the same) attached in the Haredi community to boys who serve in the IDF. That stigma is not going anywhere in your lifetime or mine, barring the creation of an army like King David's which was populated only with righteous Torah scholars. 

8. The notion of 'equalizing the burden' is a populist misnomer. If you have more than one child, have you ever tried to equalize what you give each child and what each child does around the house? You can't raise kids that way, and if you try to it'll be disastrous. Each person has their own needs, wants and desires. Shouting for equalizing the burden is the equivalent of your kids yelling 'it's not fair.' Some people will serve longer in the army and some will serve less. Some will serve in risky positions and some will serve in less risky positions. That's inevitable.

9. The army does not want to draft the Haredim en masse.

10. Haredim are not a small group of conscientious objectors. They are probably 10-20% of the population and they are its fastest growing sector. 

I'm not going to describe specific solutions (other than the one I linked before the ten-item list), but I will set out some directions as to where the solution might be found:

1. The focus should be on making Haredim who are not studying Torah into productive working (on the books) members of society. That does not require learning Zionist history or civics. According to Naftali Bennett, whom I heard speak last week, it doesn't even require math, because those who have learned Talmud can pick up math very quickly. It does, however, require learning English. Rather than jumping up and down insisting that the schools add a 'core program' to the Haredi education, it might be more productive to try to get the Haredi schools to let their kids learn English in school.

2. If you're going to insist that Haredim work, you have to be willing to hire them. In that same speech last week, Bennett said that if a Haredi walked in the door of the high tech company he used to own in Herzliya, he would not be hired. If the seculars want the Haredim to work, that has to change. In America, I am constantly told as if I need to hear it, Haredim work. But in America, a man can walk into a job interview with a black hat on his head and still be hired (although for many years in some professions you couldn't be hired with any kind of kipa on your head). In America, a man can walk into a job interview and not be shown the door when he says that he never served in the army or served a 'shortened' service period. If the real priority is economic, then let's work together to make the economics work rather than trying to shove something that's anathema to one population group down their throats.

3. If the real goal is to make the Haredim 'like all other Israelis,' there will be a civil war here. That's something no Haredi will accept, and it's the desire to use the army to create 'Israeliness' that has prevented many Haredim from joining the IDF, and therefore from being gainfully employed.

4. The problems are in urgent need of progress even if no solution is going to be instantaneous. Based on the share of the two Haredi parties in the incoming Knesset, nearly 10% of the country is Haredi. The actual percentage is probably higher, especially if you count the children. In Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, United Torah Judaism (a Haredi party) won a plurality of the votes. The Haredi population is the fastest growing sector of society.

But whatever solutions are adopted, coercion will not work. Without accepting that basic premise, we will get nowhere.

Aren't you all glad I moderate comments?

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At 12:46 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The Arabs cannot be integrated.

With the Haredim, with Israel transitioning to a Jewish-based form of Zionism, the Haredim can grow up in an Israel in which they can finally identify with and serve its institutions without fear of losing their way of life or their religious values.

Their community would identify as Zionists in such a sense and as proud Israelis. But if the aim is to remake them as secular Israelis, it will fail. Israel is not a "melting pot" and any solution has to begin with acceptance of the fact that Jews live and lead their lives differently.

The issue is a difficult one and will require tact, sensitivity, compromise and good will. There is no magic bullet that will resolve the issues surrounding the Haredi community and their relationship to the state. Outside of the anti-Zionist Satmar, there is a willingness to reach a modus vivendi. But it will take time.

If every one understands it, a solution is possible. But it cannot be imposed in Israel and coercion would never work. Its important to integrate this community in Israeli life so all Jews share the burdens of equally serving and defending the country.

As an ideal, it will probably never be fully attained. I don't think it was even attained in biblical times. But the notion of Jews being able to preserve their way of life and in a Jewish State being able to perform activities that were closed off to them in the rest of the world, still has its resonance.

If Zionism cannot reconcile this, then Jewish nationhood will not include every Jew. More to the point, what kind of place would the Haredim have in Israel? When the country can answer that question, then the Jews will finally be a sovereign people in their own land.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger southcentralpa said...

I think Yair Lapid's "center" needs to be mindful that for demographic reasons, the center is shifting in the direction of the Haredi and will continue to do so...

I also think some of the Haredi rabbis should try to conceive of "field condition" rules, perhaps inspired by David's Mighty Warriors (Gibborim, I believe the term is ... ?).


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