Regev Responds


What's Up With Shas and the Zionist Movement?

If Shas is not prepared to adopt democracy and equality, its participation in the Zionist Federation should be prevented. If its intentions are opposed to these values, the best thing is for Shas to declare this openly.

Interior Minister, Eli Yishai kissing the hand of the leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. 14.12.2009. Photo: Abir Sultan, Flash 90 Interior Minister, Eli Yishai kissing the hand of the leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. 14.12.2009. Photo: Abir Sultan, Flash 90

The news has been out for 20 years that Shas is considering whether or not to join the Zionist movement. In the last few years it became something of a joke, and not a particularly funny one, until transformed recently into absurd reality. There is the possibility that entering the Zionist Federation might change Shas's image and well- known views – and this should be given our blessing. But what is apparent today is that there is no deep or authentic ideological change to speak of – and we should make every effort to prevent the ridiculous exercise of bringing this Trojan Horse called Shas into the Zionist Federation. Otherwise, the danger exists that this matter might be the last nail in the coffin of the Zionist movement.

It's simply amazing that the Likud, a splendid Zionist movement, whose loyalty to Zionist ideology is its characteristic banner, has reportedly agreed with Shas to set up a common faction. MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) probably knew what he was saying when he reacted to the the initiative of joining the Zionist Federation, declaring: "It seems that patronage jobs are more important than the most important thing for religious Jews, which is the holy Torah".

On the surface, what's wrong with broadening the ranks of the Zionist Federation, particularly in the case of a movement as large as Shas? But it's hard to thing of a sharper contradiction that the one between the the Zionist world view and the Haredi one to be found in a Shas prayerhall. We've been reassured that Shas is working on bringing its statutes into line with the "Jerusalem Program", which briefly outlines goals of the Zionist movement. It's hard not to see this as hypocrisy bordering on deceit. The Jerusalem Program defines, among other things, the foundation of Zionism as "the creation of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist and democratic state, designed to have unique moral and spiritual values based on mutual respect for the diversity of the Jewish people".

"In the creation of Israel as a democratic state"? It's enough to recall the repeated pronouncements of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef only last month, about statements he delivered to the meeting of the fiscal courts. According to these statements, the civil courts of the country are "rulings of gentiles", and it was forbidden for Jews to be tried in them. His attacks on the court system and the opportunistic relationship of Shas toward democracy have become bywords. Budget increases demanded by the Haredi parties for Shabbat inspectors prove that the state for them is milk cow and nothing else.

Democracy, Shas style

According to Shas regulations, the central goal of the movement is: "to promote the establishment of a Haredi

The world view of Shas and of Haredi Judaism is completely different from that of the Zionist movement

religious society in the land of Israel." This is not exactly a democratic value.

Study of Shas regulations reveals that changes in the regulations are possible only by decision of the president of their Council of Sages. "All fundamental administrative decisions are made solely according to recommendations by the Council of Sages". Party representatives in any institution require the approval of the president of the Council of Sages, etc. These regulations reflect the Shas world view, which sees democracy as a principal alien to Judaism.

The world view of Shas and of Haredi Judaism is completely different from that of the Zionist movement. Their world view is also reflected by the policy according to which not a single woman is in a Shas leadership position or representing it in the Knesset, and female members do not have equal rights in the party. The Minister for Religious Affairs from Shas is responsible for what has been done in the area around the Kotel (Western Wall), where women who want to pray according to their faith are persecuted, where Jews from Reform and Conservative communities are prevented from holding services, and reception ceremonies by the Jewish Agency for families of new immigrants have ceased to be held.

In opposition to a central value as set out by the Jerusalem Program, "Mutual respect for the diversity found among Jewish people", Minister Margi explains his party's program for the Zionist Federation: "What emissaries go out to speak to Jewish students at universities? Emissaries of the enemies of the Jewish people, who sit in restaurants and eat filth and treif. How can they speak to students about Jewish identity? We are joining the Jewish Agency in order to muscle out the Reform and Conservative Jews."

Apparently this is the kind of respect for diversity which Shas wants to strengthen in the Jewish people: squeezing out the pioneer youth movements and the largest religious movements among the Jewish people, which are not Orthodox, and replacing them with proselytizers of the kind we are familiar with in Israel.

If Shas is sincere in its intention to accept Zionism and democracy and respect the diversity of the Jewish people, it must make an official, public announcement stating this in a clear and explicit manner. It must make known its willingness to internalize democratic values, even in its own house. It must talk with representatives of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. But if Shas is not ready to adopt democracy and equal rights, if it is not capable of engaging in such a basic level of dialog and Zionist cooperation, it should not be allowed to destroy the Zionist movement from within and should be prevented from joining the Zionist Federation.

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