Beyond the Cusp

March 11, 2013

Shas Reacts Facing the Unthinkable

In the entire history of the state of Israel, Shas has been included as part of the ruling coalition ever since its inception going into elections for the eleventh Knesset without concern for the political alignment, be it right, left, Zionist or any other conceivable alignment except for the sixteenth Knesset under Prime Minister Sharon. This has made the leadership of the Shas Party begin to expect that they would be included in every government going forward as they have proven to be loyal members of coalitions led by Labor or Likud and anyone inbetween. As such, the Shas leadership now has to deal with not being included in the next ruling coalition for only the second time since their inception and they are definitely not pleased with this situation. This begs the question of whether or not any party can rightfully view themselves as indispensable to any ruling coalition and what leads the membership of Shas to have such beliefs.

 

It is actually understandable why Shas has been able to join governing coalitions without regard to most of the political considerations which affect other parties. Shas is only beholden to the Sephardic Haredi population and as such has a very narrow definition of concerns. With such a specific and narrowly defined membership, Shas can be accommodated in any governing coalition without sacrificing any of the more secular principles which often go into the formation of a coalition. Shas would appear to favor more religious Jewish values which are also considered to be at least in part the basics for Likud, Labor and most of the other Israeli Jewish political parties and as such pose no difficulties for the inclusion of Shas in a government. Simply all the major party forming a coalition need implement to have Shas as a member party is to grant them the demands for Torah worship funding including stipends for their adult students, especially those with families, so they may study full time and not need to hold employment and also give those students of Torah deferment from military or public service requirements. This had not been a problem as it had been established through the Tal Law. That came crashing down when Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch annulled the Tal Law as a parting gift when she stepped down from her position. The Tal Law was in need of replacement as the Haredi portion of the Israeli society has grown to the point where it is becoming unfeasible to continue to carry them on the backs of the rest of the country and excuse them from any responsibility solely so they are free to study Torah and only study Torah. The transition had already shown the early signs of stirrings and would have been accomplished, albeit slowly, but it was being addressed. By annulling the Tal Law the government was faced with a pressing situation which more resembled a crisis than having to address a gradual change altering perceptions over time. This made Shas the political hot potato of this election cycle and was further exacerbated by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party making the immediate enlistment and end of deferrals for almost all Torah students which placed them totally at odds with Shas. This led to a predicament where only one of the two political parties would be able to join the ruling coalition if either were to be included. As Lapid reached an agreement with Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party that they would join their Knesset seats together and join a coalition or the opposition as one party. This left Prime Minister Netanyahu with a choice, either include both Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party or allow Shas to join his coalition. Apparently Shas will end up on the losing end of such a choice.

 

The resulting anger and recriminations which have emanated from the Shas membership and leadership both during the campaign and the ensuing coalition negotiations has been, shall we say, less than cordial or polite. Their vindictive rhetoric towards Yair Lapid and his party’s secular core which demanded equal sharing of the burden was predictable but their venomous outpourings at Naftali Bennett did come as a surprise to some, especially members of the Jewish Home Party. It will remain to be seen if the uncomely actions and accusations from some Shas members, particularly their newly returned leader, Aryeh Deri, have shocked many and left a rather putrid aroma over the whole coalition building scene. Their demands and appearance of feeling owed a position in the next government would affect adversely any regular party in upcoming elections. Not so Shas as their support comes from a close knit community which is obliged by their Rabbis to vote for Shas and without considerations of anything other than supporting their community at the expense of all else. This is part of why they are immune to normal influences that might cripple other parties and why they appear to garner the same portion of Knesset seats election after election. It will remain to be seen if the discipline to keep the members of Shas dependent upon their party once their insular community is no longer supported separate from the rest of Israeli society. Once they are no longer permitted universal deferment from IDF or public service it is possible that their world and societal views may change and outside influences may forever alter their previously closed society.

 

There is one item that also must be addressed if one is to be fair to the Haredi community. They have not exactly been accepted with open arms by those outside their community. Where there may be some credibility to the excuse that the Haredi have not exactly made enormous efforts to be accepted by the outside society, those outside of the Haredi community share at least an equal amount of blame for not making the Haredi accepted or make efforts to make the outside world accessible for the strictly religious. The lack of understanding has been shared by both sides of this debate and any solution is going to require sacrifices and efforts by both communities. Where the Haredi community has been portrayed by the secular media and secular society as a bunch of freaks living in a backwards and exclusive community, there has not exactly been any real efforts made to make the secular society accessible to the Haredi or to be sensitive to their culture and societal rules and standards. Much of the public discussion has been of a nature to criticize the Haredi with little effort put forth towards understanding and acceptance. The Haredi have just as much right to live according to traditional rules as the secular society has to ignore those very same rules which their ancestors no more than a few short generations ago lived by. That is the one small fact that many in the secular community ignore that they are not that far removed from the exact same societal structures and strict rules of the Haredi in their own families. Where it is true that the Haredi are going to need to join Israeli society and start to pull their fair share of the burden, it is also going to be necessary that the secular make adjustment which allows the Haredi to share the burden while not forcing them to abandon their principles and traditions. It is a two way street and neither side is going to be able to demand of the other that they forfeit their way of life and the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. If both are to share the burden, then both will also be burdened with making Israel a place which respects and accommodates both in equal amounts. The extent to which such accommodations and adjustments are made will be the measure to the tolerance and respect both societies are able to grant the other. The one truth is that the future of Israel is dependent upon a shared effort and interest in working together instead of competing for prevalence.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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