Regev Responds

The ultra-Orthodox parties are a sought-after commodity

What are haredi parties doing in a national-Zionist coalition?

A government priding itself as being national, democratic, Zionist, relies on haredi cynical anti-Zionist parties aiming to extract state funds, enforce religious coercion and erode democracy.

ultra-Orthodox Jews at Western Wallultra-Orthodox Jews at Western Wall

The ultra-Orthodox parties are a sought-after commodity for forming a government coalition. For the “right-right” coalition they are the natural partners. However, even in the opposing camp there are parties that want their partnership, including Yair Lapid, who joined Naftali Bennett in 2013, demanding the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties from the government. Now he is singing a different tune.

As for the Netanyahu coalition, they have been marketing the partnership with the ultra-Orthodox for years, as part of a “national-Zionist government,” while rejecting as abhorrent the thought that an Israeli government coalition could be based on the support, even indirectly, of Arab parties, which are, as is well-known, “anti-Zionist.” Lapid too, for example, recently stated a potential partnership with the ultra-Orthodox parties is preferable to a partnership with an Arab party.

I do not want to touch on the question of the dispute between the “Only Bibi” camp and the “Only not Bibi” camp, nor do I want to address disputes between the Left and the Right. Rather, I focus on the hypocrisy of establishing a Zionist-national coalition based on the ultra-Orthodox parties.

We have seen a reminder of this anomaly only recently, although none of the politicians uttered a single word of criticism.

Two front page pictures on Remembrance Day, which is also the eve of Independence Day – one of Yated Ne’eman and the other of Yediot Aharonot – tell the whole story. A government that prides itself as being national, democratic and Zionist, relies on ultra-Orthodox cynical anti-Zionist parties, who aim to extract state funds, enforce religious coercion, erode democracy and undermine Zionism.

The majority of Israeli and Diaspora Jews mourn on Remembrance Day the tens of thousands of young people who gave their lives for the defense of the land and the people of Israel, to be followed by celebrating Israel’s independence. But Yated Ne’eman, the newspaper of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism political party led by MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who is entrusted with control over the state’s funds as chairman of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, does not even hint to its readership the pain of Remembrance Day, nor the joy of Independence Day. Rather, it devotes its expression of joy to the success of the ultra-Orthodox politicians’ demands that yeshiva budgets not be reduced at a time when many critical social services are being cut.

Unlike the week before, when the newspaper completely ignored Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, this time there was actually a reference to Israel Independence Day. In the editorial titled “This is not the ‘Independence’ we prayed for” they write, “We have not the slightest hint of joy on ‘Independence Day’... From a Jewish point of view, the joy of this day is inappropriate.... In the text of the “Declaration of Independence” read by David Ben-Gurion, there was not a single word of thanksgiving to God. The whole essence and wording of this document... is a crude rewriting of history, not done innocently but rather out of an undisguised desire to destroy the ‘old world’ to the core.”

The anti-Zionism of the ultra-Orthodox political parties is often told in their official publications. For example, we could read the explanation of Rabbi Shaul Lerner, one of the leading writers in Yated Ne’eman, a few days earlier. He sharply criticized the initiative of an ultra-Orthodox student who wrote to the Education Ministry requesting the inclusion of ultra-Orthodox individuals in the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl.

The anti-Zionism of the ultra-Orthodox political parties is often told in their official publications.

LERNER WRITES, “The establishment of the State of Israel was accompanied by declarations of heresy and... rebellion against the Kingdom of Heaven... as such, it is the complete opposite of all that Jews of all generations have hoped for in their return to Zion – the revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven.... Requests [to include the ultra-Orthodox in that national ceremony] do not represent the views and positions of the ultra-Orthodox public who adhere to the Torah. As has been expressed... by the great rabbis of every generation – we are to keep away from any dialogue with the general culture of the heads of state.”

Yated Ne’eman’s editorial chose to call Theodor Herzl, after disgracefully misrepresenting how his Zionist thinking unfolded, “the hallucinator of the state” (hozeh ha’medina) instead of the tribute usually associated with his name, “the prophet of the state” (chozeh ha’medina). At the conclusion of the editorial they mock and disparage the ceremonial closing (“For the glory of the State of Israel”) uttered by all those who light the 12 torches at the national event.

Omitting any mourning reference to those who have fallen in the defense of Israel or celebratory reference to Independence Day, what Gafni and his party’s newspaper choose to publish on their front page that day is a shrieking assault on MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the first Reform rabbi to serve as a Knesset member, accusing him of criminal conduct for helping the “Women of the Wall” exercise their right to pray in the Western Wall plaza.

In another editorial the day before under the heading “Lessons of Holocaust Day,” the newspaper states, “Whoever facilitates and helps the entry [into Israel] of murky streams and cults [i.e., the streams of liberal Judaism that represent the Jewish choice of the majority of world Jewry]... perpetrates a spiritual Holocaust which is as dangerous to the Jewish people as the physical Holocaust.”

Subscribing to an anti-Zionist worldview, it is only natural that the supplements for children attached to the ultra-Orthodox papers, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi (we checked Yated Ne’eman; Haderech, the Shas Party’s organ; and the weeklies Ba’Kehilah and Mishpachah) do not include any mention of Remembrance Day and Independence Day; not a word about the those who sacrificed their lives in Israel’s wars or the celebration of Israel’s independence that made it possible for these parties to establish their institutions and fund them from the state coffers. These are just token examples of volumes of materials I have that demonstrate both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist and anti-democratic views and values.

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, as evidenced in Hiddush’s repeated polls and those of the Israel Democracy Institute and others, support a wide unity civil coalition, and strongly object to basing government coalitions on the ultra-Orthodox parties. Most Israeli Jews want to see Israel grow and prosper as a Jewish and democratic state, and see this end as requiring the full implementation of the promise of Israel’s Declaration of Independence for “freedom of religion and conscience” as well as “equality regardless of religion, gender or race.”

The haredi parties being at the core of government coalitions and surrendering to their dictates is antithetical to these very principles, to the will of the majority in Israel and world Jewry, and undermines Israel’s strategic interests, Jewish peoplehood and democracy. It’s time for our politicians to take this to heart.

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