February 25, 2020

Israel (64) to the Haredis (21): Time for Change


The fact that the law has finally passed in the Knesset is no great achievement. This was only the vote on the first reading of the bill and changes are to be expected. Some of them can be significant – and annoying.


The Haredi legislators' theatrical protest in the Knesset is also of small significance. The law is far from implementation, the draft is far into the future, and the theatre was guaranteed no matter what the law would have said. The bottom line didn't change yesterday: Israel can't allow the current situation to continue, and is in need of a government that is smart, tough and determined enough to make changes – by agreement if possible, or by force in the more likely case of disagreement. Is the Netanyahu government smart, tough and determined enough? I'm not sure it is, but this also doesn't matter much, since the real battle is going to take place when a new government is in power. This means one of two things:

A. The next election might focus on the Haredi issue, and the public is going to elect the party that can guarantee action (as there's no real question regarding what the public wants).

B. Something else will be front and center by the time of the election – nuclear Iran, war, peace, Palestinian negotiations, whatever – and the Haredi issue will be postponed, yet again, into the future.


Why is the passing of the legislation still important? Look at the vote and at the numbers. Only 21 MK's opposed the law: The Haredi MK's – and members of Meretz and Kadima who believe that the legislation isn't tough enough. My guess is that the opponents on the left would never have opposed the legislation if there was even the slightest chance of it not passing because of them. So in fact, it's the Haredis against the rest of society, and more importantly, the vote shows that it's becoming unacceptable for a politician to vote for the preservation of the status quo. That's why the Labor Party, as unhappy as it is with the legislation, supported it.

That's also why my colleague Dov Maimon and I – writing for JPPI's annual assesment (to be published soon) – expect the overall trend toward serious change in the relations between the Haredi community and the rest of society to continue, even if not in the quick pace desired by most Israelis.

Here's one paragraph from our report:

Under these circumstances, focusing on the ultra-Orthodox issue in the political arena is a very tempting proposition for leaders of non-Orthodox parties. The risk of losing non-Haredi votes as a result of an uncompromising demand to deal with the ultra-Orthodox sector is almost nonexistent – certainly not for leaders of secular parties (76 % of the population supported the establishment of a government “without Haredi parties.”). From the politicians’ perspective, the ability to formulate a resounding popular message is an obvious advantage. The majority of Israelis perceive the ultra-Orthodox as a burden, whose contribution to the general good is inadequate, and whose demands from other sectors are unjustified. In the religious-cultural context, the ‘year of the ultra-Orthodox’ could not have come at a worse time for the ultra-Orthodox themselves… It is, therefore, unsurprising that many of the political parties that stressed ‘societal’ and ‘economic’ issues in their election campaigns found the uncompromising demand to address the problem of the ultra-Orthodox sector an irresistible game…