Netanyahu's unacceptable deal with the ultra-Orthodox
The cabinet's approval of a sweeping 'reform' of the state's horse-trading relationship with the ultra-Orthodox community reflects the cabinet's capitulation to the political demands of the Haredim.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday asked the cabinet to approve a sweeping "reform" of the state's horse-trading relationship with the ultra-Orthodox community. His plan involved granting the Haredim an exemption from the draft, and a future cut in the stipends of married yeshiva students, in the spirit of the ruling of the High Court of Justice.
The resolution that was passed reflected the cabinet's capitulation to the political demands of the Haredim, who want to share the state's resources without sharing its burdens. Due to opposition from a few ministers, including those closest to him, however, Netanyahu won approval for only part of his plan, and did not submit the proposals relating to the draft to a vote because of "lack of time."
In its attempt to perpetuate the distorted arrangements under which the Haredim are exempt from serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and married yeshiva students who do not work receive state support, the premier's plan violates the principle of equality. Even worse is the fact that he attempted to camouflage the true nature of the "reform" by creating the misleading impression that it would increase the burdens shouldered by his political partners in Shas and United Torah Judaism in various areas of life in the country. The draft exemption was thus disguised as "one year of national civilian service," whose details are still murky. Maintaining the stipends to married yeshiva students, in violation of the High Court, was presented as a cut that will be implemented in another five years - long after the end of the current government.
Haredi politicians have always manipulated Israel's governments for their own ends, exploiting the fact that they hold the political balance of power in order to free their constituencies from sharing the burdens: For example, the Haredim have been liberated from studying core subjects in their schools, from compulsory military service and from the need to work - while living off the public's largesse in the form of stipends and allowances. Now even many members of the community recognize that the current situation cannot go on because the national economy will collapse under the growing burden.
But Netanyahu is not aiding them - despite the fact that he understands full well the need for the Haredim to enter the workforce. As finance minister he did not shrink from cutting allowances to Haredim, so that the overly generous system of entitlements would stop being an incentive for idleness. But now Netanyahu is willing to do anything so that he and his government can survive.
And the price for that is being paid by the young Israelis who serve in the army and struggle to pay their university tuition fees, along the way to a life of work and carrying the burden of supporting themselves.
Update 9:05 am CST – Here are three more reports on Netanyahu's sell out, two agreeing with Ha'aretz and one not. All translations are courtesy Did Remez of Coteret.com and were done specifically for FailedMessiah.com:
It Is Not the Fault of Haredim
Nahum Barnea • Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 3)
In 15 years, when Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are playing solitaire in an old age home in Caesarea, the Haredim will be 20 percent of the population in Israel. The issue of their participation in the workforce and their service in the IDF will change from a moral question into an existential question: Israeli society will not be able to continue carrying them on its back.
It is doubtful whether this question will trouble the residents of the old age home in 2025: The personnel that will serve them will come from the Philippines. It is a shame that this question does not trouble them today.
The changes that the cabinet authorized today and will subsequently authorize regarding the status of those studying in ultra-Orthodox institutions reflects the priorities that Netanyahu has set himself: He prefers the political convenience of the alliance with Shas and United Torah Judaism over the potential social and economic benefit of a government based on the two large secular parties.
One could respect this decision if it stemmed from a long-term foreign policy vision, the goal of which was to annex the territories to Israel. There are more than a few serious people in the right wing who believe that the integrity of the land supercedes any other consideration, social or political. But this is not Netanyahu’s stated goal, at least not after the Bar Ilan speech. And this is certainly not the stated goal of Barak, whose party is a vital component of the coalition.
The equation is clear: As soon as the dream of the integrity of the land vanishes, the moral reason for preferring an alliance with the Haredi right wing over an alliance with the secular center also disappears. Conversely, the demographic developments are making capitulation to the Haredim a disaster both for Israeli society, and mainly for the Haredim themselves. Their political power has condemned them to a life of parasitism and poverty, contrary to the desire of many of them.
The ultra-Orthodox politicians are right when they predict that in five years, when the benefits given to them by the Netanyahu government expire, they will have enough political power to pass resolutions in the government that will extend the validity of their privileges, and perhaps even upgrade them. If the Likud does not give them what they want, Kadima will. We may even suspect that Kadima will give more, on the questionable grounds that this is the price required for peace.
The debate that has broken out regarding the government’s decisions does not pertain to faith or to religion. No one expects the Haredim to cease to be religious, heaven forbid, or to open the ghetto they have built around themselves to different winds. But there is no reason for the state to fund, from its coffers, a social sector that forces poverty and idleness on its members. MK Amsalam (Shas), who rebelled against his party, received hundreds of support letters by post, email and text messages. Some were sent by yeshiva students who are tired of sitting in perpetual idleness in the kollels, and wish to go to work. The social pressure and government allowances lock them into the framework.
It is not the mouse that is a thief, the sages said, it is the hole [through which the mouse slips] that is the thief. It is not the Haredi politicians who are to blame: Those who are to blame are the governments that yielded to the whims of their rabbis. The moment is approaching when the voters of the majority parties will say enough: If our leaders do not act responsibly, we will act responsibly. The time has come to help the Haredim become part of the State of Israel.
With Bibi on TV
Ofer Shelah • Ma’ariv (p. 7)
During the 1999 election campaign (remember? Ehud Barak was the refreshing promise of the dawn of a new day, Binyamin Netanyahu was on his way out of politics), the One Israel Party had an effective campaign, under the slogan “With Bibi on TV.” It presented the unfathomable gap between the then- and current prime minister’s media presentation and the reality on the ground on a variety of issues. Since then even Netanyahu’s fame as a TV star has faded, but it would appear that his essence hasn’t change: he was and remains a prime minister who exists mainly in the space between spin and headlines. The only change is that today Barak is not his rival, but rather his own Sancho Panza.
Yesterday’s cabinet decision about stipend payments to Haredim and the future decision to be made about [extending the current] exemption from military service are a crude mask of deception. The only thing this decision does is push off any change in the yeshiva students’ standing until after the current Netanyahu government completes its tenure. After than, God is great—and we all know who He is working for. The prime minister will continue to speak about a revolution and reform, in the hope that if he only repeats the spin enough times, somehow it will stick. But if the decision about money is somehow tolerable, the decision that relates to exempting Haredim from the IDF is particularly serious—and it is even more serious that the defense establishment is cooperating.
Let’s start with a reality check: Currently there is no chance that married yeshiva students will perform a year of civilian national service as the government proposes. The police, Magen David Adom and Israel Fire and Rescue Services are not set up to absorb thousands of yeshiva students. They don’t have jobs [for them], no mechanism to absorb them, professionals who serve as cops or firefighters will object to a cheap, untrained work force that will replace some of their jobs.
But reality is less important. The cabinet bill is ethically flawed because it takes a national problem and pretends that it is dealing with it by a small technical move that is without significance and impossible to implement. If the point is to reduce feelings among secular Israelis that they bear an unfair portion of the burden, this decision only strengthens that feeling by giving legal power to unequal service. If there is anything people can’t stand, it is when people try to pull one over on them while looking them straight in the eyes, this time without even blushing.
There is no solution to military service for Haredim (and Arabs) except service for all, and postponing the vote on the cabinet proposal could present another chance to move in the right direction. The outline is clear and well-known: Everyone walks in the front door of the IDF induction center, where they will be presented with several options. The army will get first choice, and those who don’t make it into the army will be referred to civilian service—and the same mechanism will work for that. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has been speaking about this sort of solution for a long time. But Ashkenazi and the framework he commands are partners to the lie, because this is only one side of the coin.
On the other hand, without which there is no coin, there is the significant change in the nature of army service: Significantly shorter mandatory service, civilian service will be the same length—let’s call it two years. Afterwards, the army will have the option of choosing those soldiers it wants to retain for an additional year, with shortened career army conditions. That will not only allow individuals who are currently excluded from the work force because of the Torah study is their vocation rule to get jobs, but also get rid of tens of thousands of young people whose military service is not vital, and who serve as a cheap labor force for pointless jobs. In case you missed it, this refers to a large portion of those performing mandatory IDF service.
Those whom the army needs will get out of the army at the end of their third year with a nice sum, enough to take a vacation or to take their first steps into adult life. This is, by the way, more or less the monthly amount that is budgeted for the married yeshiva students today. If you add to this free university tuition for IDF veterans, there will finally be equality. Not only that, but it will also be possible to rebuild the IDF, in line with its real tasks—and to greatly increase Israel’s work force.
At the time the Ben-Bassat Committee recommended initial, partial steps in this area. The army even started to implement them. But after the Second Lebanon War the army was busy with its own spin: We were terrible in war because we gave in to civilian society in funding and personnel matters. Therefore the Ben-Bassat conclusions were thrown into the garbage, even though they were meant to improve the army, not to hurt it. And those officers, including former deputy chief of staff Ashkenazi and Director of Human Resources Branch Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, who excitedly signed the Ben-Bassat recommendations, became devoted enemies of shortened service.
A real change in military service, in work and equality will happen only when those who hold the helm believe in it, not when they are trying only to survive another news broadcast. In the meanwhile every fake step only worsens the feeling that we are being cheated. But with Bibi on television, everything is fine.
Netanyahu: A Step in the Right Direction
Matti Tuchfeld • Israel Hayom (p. 9) (news analysis)
The proposal to cut the yeshiva students’ allowances is imperfect and not immediate, but it is definitely a step in the right direction, said yesterday Binyamin Netanyahu. The political establishment was divided yesterday over that issue. Ostensibly, at issue are legitimate differences of opinion that stem from fundamentally different views, except that the sad reality is that this issue has merely become another scene in the miserable and cynical political play that has been performed on stage for the past number of weeks.
For thirty years the governments of Israel approved every year the allowances to the yeshiva students. It was one of the dozens of clauses that routinely found their way into the state budget and were copied in from one year to the next without anyone giving the matter even a single minute of thought. All of the governments approved that clause, regardless of whether there were Haredi parties in the coalition or not.
The only government that was forced to put an end to this ongoing practice—after being enjoined to do so by the High Court of Justice—was the current government. The prime minister had two options to choose from: either pass into legislation the court-bypass bill that was drafted by the Haredi parties to legalize the allowances or put the issue on the table for debate, for the first time in three decades, and to draft a plan that would encourage Haredim to go out to work and would give more to the university students.
Netanyahu chose the second option. A third option of doing away with the allowances altogether—the option Netanyahu’s opponents clamored after—was never really an option. It is both unfair and not particularly realistic, and everyone knows that. Except the show must go on.
For months now Kadima has been staging an anti-Haredi campaign that is geared to win it a few extra seats from among secular left wing voters. Now the prime minister has put a single foot of his in “their” rubric. So is it any wonder that they are feeling embittered?