Beyond the Cusp

July 4, 2013

A Basic Question for Those Ministers in the Knesset Demanding Share the Burden

There are a number of Knesset Ministers whose parties ran on a platform that included references to a simply idea, an idea they tried to make sound like a new revelation never before addressed that would solve all the ills in Israeli society. They talked about sharing the burden by which they meant serving in the Israeli Defense Force or performing National Service. They were focusing largely on making the Haredi communities serve universally and not be given deferments for every Haredi Jew who wished to study Torah. They implied that a percentage, though the exact amount they were loath to mention, were not taking their Torah study all that seriously and were hiding behind study as a path to avoid their social obligations. Some of those making such accusations should check their own background before throwing stones inside a glass house, or whatever, as it works whether the house is glass or the glass is thrown. Some might claim that spending an enlistment working within one’s intended profession which they have a path to pursue open to them, almost reserved one might say, is not service as much as the young soldier who volunteers for combat arms and especially if they make it into any of the elite units. These claims against the Haredi were made so general that it appeared that the fact that there is a program which includes a number of Yeshiva which combines military service with Torah study was being minimized or even discounted as simply a way of claiming to do military service but not being a part of the real military. When the military is called upon to defend the people and State of Israel those Yeshiva soldiers will risk their lives and bleed the same color as any other soldier and they will follow their orders as well if not better than many. But all of this aside, there are other items which need to be discussed in open public as it will require a change of attitude from many within Israeli society if the burden is to be truly shared. When we as a people ask the Haredi to share, we too mush be willing to share.

 

My initial question for those calling for the Haredi in particular and others to share the burden is very simply. Have any of you ever when hiring people to work in your business life or to serve on your current Knesset staff hired, or even given an interview, to any Haredi who have applied? If you claim that none applied then I would ask why you think they did not apply? If they had applied would it have made any difference? Do you think it is fair to demand the Haredi to serve a public which in general would not give them even consideration for employment? We have all heard the complaint that the Haredi do not have the skills necessary to be employed in much of Israeli high tech industries or manufacturing and other excuses. The people making those arguments very probably know that there are a good number of Haredi who have studied and received degrees in numerous engineering disciplines and most Haredi should prove to be more than adequately trainable for any manufacturing position and very likely easier to train than some who are currently brought into the manufacturing sector. If the Israeli public as a whole desires the Haredi serve just the same as any other sector of society in the military or public service then first treat them as equals when it comes to hiring and giving the choice entry level positions for those Haredi who have taken the courses and received degrees. It is no secret that one can usually determine simply by an application whether somebody is from the Haredi community, though not always a foolproof determination. And it is not unknown that any Haredi who even gets as far as being interviewed; their chances for being actually considered are less than the chances for a non-Haredi. How about we integrate them into what we laughingly call normal society and then I would bet we would find the Haredi far more willing to serve in the IDF or give time to National Service.

 

On another front, the argument that the percentage of the population that is Haredi is growing faster than any other segment of Israeli society and because of this they will have to serve in the IDF in order to assure we have sufficient soldiers in the future. There is the other argument that their growth as a larger portion of our society means that the government will not be able to underwrite their Torah study as it will soon prove to be more than can be sustained by a workforce that does not include Haredi workers. Well, the solution here is not to do away with stipends for those students who truly desire to study Torah and have shown a better than average aptitude for such study, the secret is to give the Haredi equal opportunity to be employed and a part of the so-called normal workforce. What choices do the current feelings towards the Haredi offer them in Israel? If they are closed out of much of the high tech engineering sectors, ignored by the retail because they dress differently, refused hire for industry because they do not appear to be inclined for such work, then where are they to work and support themselves? Has anybody ever thought that maybe a fair number if not a majority of the Haredi would not mind joining the workforce and earn their own keep? Until such is given an opportunity we will not know and until such opportunities are a normal part of society is it fair to ask them to serve equally when they are not treated equally?

 

There is something that the Haredi will also need to find a way of adapting. The Haredi Rabbis are going to have to find some middle ground where they allow for coed work environments. Granted there will be a change necessitated where a certain level of modest dress may need to be expected in the workplace. There may be benefits to that beyond making the workplace more accessible for Haredi workers in that psychiatric and sociologic research has found that there has been proven a relationship between professionalism in the workplace and strict dress codes. They have found that if workers are expected to dress to a special level rather than casual attire that they tend to be more professional and productive. Granted that such findings have been buried because casual is the new dressed up but many of us know that the old studies were correct and dress more formally for work you will act and work at a heightened level. But the Haredi will need to be able to work professionally in a coed environment and such environs must be adapted so as to be more acceptable to modesty requirements. Such changes will in time prove to benefit the non-Haredi workers as well as making society more accessible and accepting to the Haredi population among us. On both sides of the society we need to remember that as Jews we are brothers and sisters in the same very extended family. Myself is probably a good example as my father is Ashkenazi and my mother is Sephardic which makes me confused when pronouncing certain Hebrew words as my Hebrew education was spent switching back and forth from the two schools. But the truth is if we go back some generations we all came from a small group of who lived in Judea and gave Greeks and then Romans more trouble than the entire area of Judea was actually worth to them. It does seem being argumentative is something we have gotten down pat. Perhaps it is time to nurture being more open, especially to each other to all of our brothers and sisters. When the world throws either stones or insults at us it is because we are Jews and they do not differentiate between Haredi and irreligious, Zionist or not Zionist, or any of the other differences we impose on ourselves, they simply see Jews and perhaps the time has come for us to see ourselves as the world see us. We will be stronger, happier and more Jewish together and we can learn from one another.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

February 9, 2013

Stubbornness Contest Between Shas and Yesh Atid

Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing difficulty in forming the large coalition which includes as broad a span of political views as possible such that the result will not be dependent on any single party other than Likud-Beytenu. The problem he has struck is the contest between Shas, the Hasidic Party and Yesh Atid headed by Yair Lapid who refuses to compromise on any of the party platform issues he and his list had campaigned upon. One issue which has become a hot button issue finds the religious parties including Shas in direct conflict with Lapid’s Yesh Atid stand that only the top four-hundred Torah students be allowed a deferment from IDF or National Service a part of the share the burden solution. Shas, needless to point out, wishes for an equal or at least very similar style deferment law as the Tal Law which was ruled to be against the constitution by the Supreme Court in a decision made in the final days under Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, a strange concept as Israel has no constitution. Neither side wishes to budge on this issue and Lapid, who is entering the Knesset for the first time as are all the people on his list, will likely be introduced to the concept that if you demand everything you will often end up not in the coalition and you get nothing, such is the way of parliamentary governance. My feelings are that Yair Lapid knows full well that at some point he will need to give in order to get but is going to play hard and stiff for as long as it serves to further his ideals and ideas and bend only at the last moment. Shas will not bend and will need to be bludgeoned into accepting any form of compromise but that is their way and is expected.

Yair Lapid might be playing a dangerous game believing that Netanyahu cannot permit him and his nineteen Knesset seats to join Shelly Yachimovich and the Labor Party in the opposition. He had best do the math and realize that Netanyahu can form a sixty-one seat coalition simply by including the two purely religious parties, Shas and Yahadut HaTorah with eleven and seven seats respectively along with HaBayit HaYehudi which has twelve seats. Add in the thirty-one seats of Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu Party reaches the sixty-one seats out of the Knesset’s one-hundred-twenty total seats, the minimum necessary for a majority to form a coalition. Netanyahu has even spoken with Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yachimovich and even the leader of Meretz, Zahava Gal-On, even though the likelihood of their parties joining the coalition are minimal, as the Prime Minister had stated he wishes to form as broad a governing coalition as possible, even a unity government, though that is next to impossible. All told, the forming of the coming coalition very well may prove to be more interesting than the usual cut and dry same old expected coalition of traditional allies. With some of the difficulties which may come to a head and have to be faced by the coming government, a large and stable coalition that is not dependent on any one party is something that is definitely desirable. I do not envy the members of this Knesset, especially having a fairly good idea of what challenges are coming down the rails like an out of control train.

Back to the tug-of-war between the Hasidic Parties and Lapid’s fairly secular party over exemptions may be the most evident battle ongoing but is not the only and may prove not to even be the most critical or vitally important debate that forming the coalition will need to address. Another of Lapid Party’s concerns that I feel is likely even more important concerns the economy and the price of living. One of the major segments of the economy which needs the magic touch of Netanyahu’s economic miracle workers is housing prices and rents. During the last Knesset Netanyahu took aim at the cell phone monopolies and he opened up that market to greater competition and the prices dropped like an anchor. Hopefully Netanyahu will be able to work similar miracles with housing and rental prices, then taking aim at food prices, especially dairy and the other areas where the number of vendors is quite limited. What makes this area even more important is that much could be gained in relieving some of the upward pressures on food prices that could be attained through annexing at a minimum Area C of Judea and Samaria, the area already under total Israeli rule and control. The additional farm lands and expanded area would serve as a stimulus to the Israeli economy, an economy that is already one of the most robust of the Industrialized West. Another possible benefit from such a move would be to place some pressure on the Palestinian leadership which might be sufficient a shock to bring Abbas to the negotiation table and remove from United States President Obama’s list of misconceptions about Israel, namely that it is Netanyahu who refuses to negotiate and Abbas the willing partner. In the meantime, let’s just relax and watch the barter and other fun that goes with making a coalition. I wonder if there were a way of making coalition forming the national sport of Israel after all, they do it far, far too often.

Beyond the Cusp

February 7, 2013

Is the Future of Zionism Healthy Without Knowledge of History?

The results from a MarketWatch poll conducted for the Zionist Council of Israel contained indications of promise and problems for the future of Zionism. The promise of the future health of Zionism was most evident in the answer to the simple question of whether they consider themselves to be Zionists. Of the three-hundred Israeli Jewish teens between the ages of 15 to 18 years of age 82.9% responded they considered themselves as Zionist while 15.8% defined themselves as non-Zionist. Somewhat less promising was that just under 30% did not know significance of the date November 29, 1947, the date of the United Nations vote proposing the establishment of the partition of the remainder of the British Mandate which directly led to the founding of the nation of Israel and the first refusal of the Arabs to the offer of their own country between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the other results are just as mixed.

Over half, a full 53.5% did not know what the Oslo Accords were, specifically 70.8% of Haredi and 48.2% of secular teens. Their lack of knowledge that the Oslo Accords were simply an agreement between the Israelis and the PLO that established the Palestinian authority, returned arch terrorist Yasser Arafat back into the West Bank and granted him legitimacy, and was an initial step which was supposed to provide a path to reaching a final status establishing a Palestinian State side by side with Israel with both populations living in peace and security. The ensuing failure of the Accords has been a large impetus for the propaganda battles which have been much of the Arab Israeli difficulties since then. The apparent lack of knowledge by the youth and future leaders of Zionism of this important event and the results it has spawned is a gap in their education which must be corrected as such ignorance could prove dangerous. The one truth all sides can agree over is that the Oslo Accords have been one of the epic failures in all of history.

One of the most promising results was that 82.9% of respondents knew the words of the national anthem, Hatikvah, perfectly. It is interesting and understandable that the percentage who knew the words to Hatikvah and described themselves to be Zionists were exactly the same. It begs the question if the respondents in affirmation of these two questions were an exact correlation or if there was any divergence no matter how minor. There was almost a unanimous affirmative reply to the question of whether the youths had visited Jerusalem, something pretty much expected considering the attractions of Jerusalem and the small size of Israel. Almost 85% affirmed that they would enlist in the Israel Defense Forces or another form of national service even if it were not mandatory. This high percentage response may suggest an inspirational solution to the share the burden dilemma facing the new Knesset of simply making the IDF and national service voluntary while also increasing the salaries to represent a professional military. Slightly less of the youth expected to live in Israel long term answering they expected to be residing in Israel in fifteen years.

The overall results of the poll reveal great promise for the future of Israel and Zionism. The one troubling answer was obviously the lack of general familiarity with the history of Zionism and Israel indicated by the higher than preferred knowledge of the date of the United Nations vote which allowed for the establishing of the Jewish State and an even greater ignorance concerning the Oslo Accords. Both of these shortcomings are easily solvable with adjustments being initiated in the education system assuring that there is a stronger emphasis on the History of Israel, Zionism, and Jewish history. All in all, the results are promising. I would be interested to see a similar poll taken on the subject of religious observance and likely intended observance going on in their lives. If such a poll would produce similarly significant results towards being religious Jews as the results on Zionism, Israel would have a healthy and promising future as these youths realize their dreams and take the task of leading Israel into the future.

Beyond the Cusp

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