Friday, April 26, 2013
Lapid's loud revolution
In the history of the pre-state yishuv and post-independence Israel, two instances of political gamesmanship stand out more than any other. One of them came courtesy of Dr. Moshe Sneh -- the father of future Labor Party veteran Ephraim Sneh -- who commanded the Haganah headquarters during the British Mandate period. Just before he was to give a speech, he wrote a note to himself saying, "The argument is weak, raise your voice."
The other instance was the handiwork of David Ben-Gurion. Whenever Israel’s first prime minister ran into difficulties within his party and coalition, he would always invoke the word "Altalena," swiftly causing the politicians who were angry with him to let him be and to come to his aid to fend off Opposition Leader Menachem Begin and his faction. The issue that emerged as a bone of contention was forgotten.
It seems that Finance Minister Yair Lapid is cooking up the third-most famous instance of political gamesmanship. Every time he inches closer to announcing steep budget cuts that will be imposed on the very constituency that elected him, Lapid declares "war" on the ultra-Orthodox. To this point, he has done so with great success. The public loves the sound of his banging of the war drums.
The Yesh Atid chairman must urgently restrain himself when it comes to his attitude toward the ultra-Orthodox. It is inconceivable that his deputy in the Finance Ministry, Mickey Levy, publicly declares them to be "leeches." While Levy did quickly recant, it is still reasonable to assume that Levy heard such terminology many times during party functions before uttering it on the radio. To paraphrase a Talmudic proverb, whoever commits a sin repeatedly gives himself license to repeat it further.
The manner in which ultra-Orthodox children are spoken of also arouses discomfort. None of the ultra-Orthodox are superfluous. In the modern era, when the full force of the news media is capable of penetrating the walls that have been erected by the ultra-Orthodox communities and their yeshivas, even the fifth child of a religious family hears that his existence is unnecessary and that because of the limited means of his parents, they would’ve been better off not bringing him or her into this world. This is a damaging message to send from a psychological standpoint.
Nonetheless, Lapid's proposed policy is a necessary one. The finance minister doesn’t need to preach morality by urging people not to have children here in Israel. He should instead focus on informing the public that the child stipends and allowances will be reduced, and that applies to all children.
There is also no place to threaten the ultra-Orthodox who avoid military service, or who accede to their rabbis’ demands and stay home on the day they are to report to the conscription center, with imprisonment. Such an issue must be approached in a level-headed manner, not with threats or hyperbole. Whoever’s name is missing from the military roll calls will also have their names missing from the list of those who receive bread at the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.
The same goes for insisting that the ultra-Orthodox learn core curriculum subjects. The state can form a committee of experts on math, English, and modern Jewish history. These experts can formulate a list of the subjects that should be taught in all schools. Those schools who do not introduce these subjects will not receive state budgets. There’s no need for jails or threats of more atrocities like those that are now appearing in the ultra-Orthodox newspapers.
This isn’t just some vindictive plot. Nobody is asking ultra-Orthodox kids to be forced to learn Shaul Tchernikovsky’s "Before the Statue of Apollo." It’s too Canaanite. On the other hand, nobody wants to force secular kids to learn Gemara. At the same time, there should be no awarding of high school certificates to children who do not know the words to the prayer "Shema Yisrael" and "Yizkor." This is something that Yesh Atid’s deputies appear to have accepted against their will.
It is clear to all why the ultra-Orthodox are vehemently opposed to conscription and core curriculum subjects. They are weary of the deleterious effects that the impulse-driven tendencies of general society will have on their children and grandchildren. They are suspicious of attempts to upgrade the status of women, who will forever be relegated to walking on the other side of the street in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Ashdod.
Whoever knows English and mathematics will not blindly accept the authority of the neighborhood rabbi as if he was delivering the Torah to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Instead, he will only come to a decision after examination, thought, consideration, and deliberation. This is an undermining of authority that will now be perceived as something that wasn’t delivered by providence.
The aggressive rhetoric being employed plays into the hands of secular politicians in Yesh Atid. It is unnecessary. Instead, the focus should be on encouraging the ultra-Orthodox to take action and assume a greater portion of responsibility for the general welfare of the public. Once the government adopts the proper policies and implements them without delay, within two-to-three years the desired results will be realized. The tough talk and insults will be put aside.
Earlier this week media reports indicated that Shas had given up its drive to win approval for a hastily-conceived law that would assure the appointment of Ya’akov Ariel and Shlomo Amar as chief rabbis. David Stav, who is also vying for the post, claimed these reports are misleading. They are intended to lull activists into a state of complacency, according to Stav.
Rabbi Chaim Druckman will not give up, and Naftali Bennett will blindly follow him. "The people of Israel want Ariel as chief rabbi," Druckman said forcefully.
Ariel is 76 years old. By law, nobody older than 70 can serve as chief rabbi. In Israel, however, laws aren’t worth the piece of paper on which they are written. Druckman is working to void the age limitation. Unfortunately, the political functionaries of Habayit Hayehudi have also lost sight of the connection between this law and the needs of the people whose support it sought at the ballot box. To them, this law is like a swing.
Habayit Hayehudi opted to support Ariel and abandon Stav. This would be acceptable only in a regime where politicians do not yield before the law. A game of horse trading is now taking place between Shas and Habayit Hayehudi. They will conspire to lift the age restriction. The latter will do so on behalf of Ariel, and the former will do so on behalf of the sitting Chief Sephardi Rabbi Amar. The delays this week are symptomatic of the internal struggle between Shas’ Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri.
The secular are also not averse to showing contempt for the law. During the election campaign, Netanyahu promised to appoint Moshe Kahlon as head of the Israel Land Administration. Likud MK Ofir Akunis said that polls indicated such an announcement would attract more votes to Likud Beytenu. It is hard to gauge how accurate this statement was since the ruling party wound up losing 11 Knesset seats. The planned appointment of Kahlon is a classic case which requires legal supervision, lest this was a gross violation of election laws.
The campaigns to appoint Ariel, Amar, and Kahlon are all instances in which values are discarded and the law is debased. Only unseemly regimes approve of legislation that is conceived to benefit individuals. If there is an honest intention to alter the policies of the ILA or to change the age requirements for chief rabbis, then these issues should be put off until the next elections instead of now, when candidates for these positions have already been lined up.
Tzipi Livni is opposed, but who in this government will fill the void left behind by Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and Ehud Barak, who in the past put a stop to these kinds of plans? This is a golden opportunity for Gideon Sa’ar and Yair Lapid to join forces and do good. If they don’t, then the Movement for Quality Government and the Ometz movement will appeal to the High Court to put a stop to this legislation that is more appropriate for third-world countries.
Failing to atone
Writer and actor Hillel Mittelpunkt wanted to compose a play about a friendship between a Zionist and a Communist. The relationship endures trials and tribulation until it ultimately falls apart. He didn’t find a Zionist, though history did provide him with a physics professor, Kurt Sita.
He was a Czech Marxist who married a Jewish woman and spent World War II at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Just before the War of Independence, he met a Zionist from Palestine. In 1948, Czechoslovakia sold Israel its very first weapons. This set the scene for a love story that serves as the plot of the new play Az b’Prag ("Then in Prague").
Sita traveled the world. He arrived in Israel, where he was greeted like a king at the Technion (In the play, he was awarded a chairmanship at the university). He climbed the ranks of the defense and security establishment, and he was involved in the launch of the first Hebrew satellite into space, the Shavit-2. In June 1960, he was arrested on charges of espionage.
The academic establishment refused to believe the accusations. Professor Ari Jabotinsky organized a committee that was devoted to his defense. His colleagues formed a monitoring team that would closely follow his trial. They demanded that Ben-Gurion expel him from the country. The prime minister insisted on a trial.
Sita was sentenced to five years in prison, but his punishment was reduced thanks to his extensive contacts in the defense industry. He is the only spy to have declared upon his exit from the country against which he sinned that he was hopeful "to remain a friend of Israel always."
"I depart with wishes for its security and a sterling future," he said. Sita never set foot in the country again.
More where that came from
This is typical of an Israel where young, energetic politicians move around in publicly-funded cars with a driver in tow, all at the expense of the taxpayers.
This past week, a security conference was held at Tel Aviv University. At the entrance to the conference, there was a registration table. Two pleasant-looking young girls who were manning the desk asked an old man who was waiting online, "Who are you?"
"Aharon Yadlin," he replied. One of the girls mentioned to the other that he was the father of the man in charge of the agency running the conference, Amos Yadlin of the Institute for National Security Studies, and that he was to be permitted to enter. The old man, however, waited in line and registered like everyone else.
Aharon Yadlin isn’t just the father of Amos Yadlin. He was a minister and member of Knesset for many years. He was also secretary-general of the Kibbutz Movement and held high positions in numerous academic bodies. We haven’t even mentioned his winning the Israel Prize.
After the day’s events, the man, who was once this country’s most efficient education minister on behalf of the Labor and Meretz parties, could be seen crossing the street and walking toward the bus station, from there he would board a bus that would transport him to the train destined for his kibbutz. He is at the ripe old age of 87.