On the surface, the fact that Israel is headed back to elections only weeks after the last one looks like a system failure. It’s never happened before in Israel. The Israeli government will now have spent the bulk of a year in election mode rather than governing mode. There’s something wrong with this picture.
And yet, if we look at the reason for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to cobble together a coalition — one party’s refusal to kowtow to religious parties — this “do-over” election presents a unique opportunity for a political upgrade.
Religious parties crave political power because it enables them to fulfill their religious agenda, from refusing to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to forcing Torah laws on the public. Over the years, because Netanyahu has desperately needed their seats to form a majority coalition, he has tolerated their demands.
He probably figured the same thing would happen this time around, but one man stopped him. Avigdor Lieberman, the chairman of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beiteinu party, decided he had had enough and refused to compromise on a bill to draft Charedim into the IDF.
Normally, Bibi is able to pull things together at the last minute, because Knesset members are loath to jeopardize their positions by going to new elections. In this case, it didn’t work. The Charedi parties threw a few bones of compromise, but Lieberman held firm on sticking to the original draft bill.
This dispute is rooted in the founding of the Jewish state, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the fateful decision to exempt Charedi men (only a few hundred at the time) from enlisting in the IDF. A well-known Modern Orthodox rabbi in Israel once told me that decision did more to turn off secular Jews to religion than anything else.
“With this unexpected new election, Israeli voters have a chance to put the religious parties where they belong — on the sidelines of political power.”
This makes sense. If you’re an Israeli parent whose children are risking their lives to defend the state, why should Charedi citizens be exempt? And if you see Charedi leaders fighting to keep their community out of the army, how would that make you feel about religion in general?
There are countless other ways that political power in the hands of Charedi parties has become corrosive.
“For too long, this country has been ruled by a Haredi minority,” writesJerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz. “This one group has controlled all matters of religion and state while holding the government hostage, either by preventing public transportation for millions of people who depend on it, or preventing the creation of a civil marriage option for the nearly 450,000 Israelis who might have served in the IDF and risked their lives for Israel, but cannot get married since their father is Jewish but not their mother.”
Charedi intolerance is also a key contributor to the growing schism between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The equitable compromise to allow egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, painstakingly negotiated by Natan Sharansky a few years ago, was sabotaged by Charedi parties. The list goes on, from overly stringent conversion rules to the rejection and humiliation of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
How could this be good for the Jews or for Israel?
The crazy thing is, I feel at home in the Charedi world. I love praying with them. I love their shtibls, their chanting, their learning, their passion and intensity.
What turns me off is when they become power-hungry politicians.
“Religion ought to be a beautiful thing, not a political thing.“
I’m not naive. I get that Charedi politicians must love their political power and will do whatever it takes to keep it. I’m sure they’ve convinced themselves they’re doing God’s work when they impose their religious ideals on the public.
But the majority of Israeli voters don’t like it. They’re as turned off as anyone by religious coercion. Now, with this unexpected new election, they have a chance to put the religious parties where they belong — on the sidelines of political power.
There are some problems in Israel that are intractable, like making peace with the Palestinians. Reducing the enormous influence of Charedi parties should not be an intractable problem. It should be a top priority for voters and for any future leader trying to put together a governing coalition — if not Netanyahu, then for whomever succeeds him.
Religion ought to be a beautiful thing, not a political thing. Religious leaders have every right to inspire people to become more religious and God-fearing. But when they impose rather than inspire, they end up hurting what matters most to them —their own religion
Published in the LA Jewish Journal
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.