The haredi draft issue is proving to be the sticking point in the current coalition negotiations. Rightfully so, because focusing on this matter is the key to ending the chokehold that ultra-Orthodox parties have had on Israeli politics and matters of religion and state for the past 20 years.
It’s not that I believe that a new enlistment law will truly change the situation and facilitate the mass conscription of haredi yeshiva boys and kollel men into the IDF. It won’t. Whatever new legislation is drafted will be a compromise measure that changes things only at the margins, and will, at best, accelerate pre-existing and hopeful trends already underway geared toward greater workforce participation and national service among haredim.
In fact, the thing that could be far more influential than any enlistment law would be to change our national budget in a way that cuts stipends and discounts to the non-working haredi yeshiva society, in housing, taxes, health insurance, social benefits, education and so on — but that is another discussion.
The point is that by focusing on the draft issue — which makes it almost impossible for Shas and United Torah Judaism to join the coalition — Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi are attempting to strip the haredim of the inordinate political power they have held in Israeli politics for far too long.
This explains the venom expressed in the press over the past two days by Shas toward Lapid and even more so toward Bennett. It also explains attempts by haredi rabbis to pressure Bennett into backing down by going over his head and appealing to a series of national-religious rabbis who straddle the haredi-religious Zionist divide, to the right of Bennett.
But these attempts to weaken Bennett and "save" the haredi community from facing reality mustn’t be allowed to work.
To begin with, the current appeal of haredi leaders to religious Zionist leaders to "save them" from the clutches of Yair Lapid is overwhelmingly hypocritical and worthy of complete rejection. These are the same haredi leaders, especially the ugly rabble-rousers of Shas, who just last month called the Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party the "house of goyim," and who have worked assiduously for two decades to weed out any remaining, moderate influence of religious Zionist rabbis and politicians in national affairs.
Now, Shas is cynically demanding that Bennett come to their aid.
Remember that according to Shas, religious Zionist rabbis and politicians are the rabbis of "Kochavit Giyur" ("Dial-a-Conversion") reform-minded, weak-kneed, liberal destroyers of Torah tradition who are bastardizing conversion standards and letting thousands of Russian non-Jews into Israel's Jewish community.
Now, Shas has the chutzpah to demand that the National Religious community save it.
More substantially, Bennett must not give into the pressure to back off the haredi draft effort or his alliance with Lapid because rolling back haredi influence on matters of religion and state is critical to the health and unity of this country. It's time, once again, for the face of Torah and Jewish religion in public life to be one that is not ambivalent toward the Zionist enterprise, that does not scorn the rule of law and democratic institutions, that does not evince utter rejection of modernity, and that does not disparage and denigrate the secular public.
Let’s remember that since the political Left in Israel unfortunately handed the keys to Israel's Jewish character over to the ultra-Orthodox in the 1990s (to purchase haredi support for Oslo I and II, the disengagement from Gaza and more), ultra-Orthodox parties and their rabbis have conducted a slow but inexorable conquest of the rabbinate and religious courts, conversion courts, municipal religious councils, kashrut agencies, and more.
The deleterious results are clear: City rabbis who demand extreme gender separation requirements at municipal public events and in public spaces, burial societies that institute strictures in funeral proceedings (especially in regard to women), courts that apply stringencies in matters of marriage and divorce and especially conversion, and haredi politicians (some also claiming the title rabbi) sounding off with xenophobic, anti-Zionist, anti-modern and anti-nationalist statements on public matters several times per week.
In addition, Shas leaders have created a rapidly growing network of party-affiliated schools that entrenches and glorifies ethnic resentments, teaches absolute religious condescension toward all others and disdain for the modern world, and which prepares its graduates to do nothing in the working world. In short, a retrogressive Torah education, not a wholesome, productive and broad religious education.
I also refuse to forgive and forget haredi leaders and rabbis who have described religious Zionists as "fools who believe anything," leftist politicians as "Amalek," and Supreme Court justices as "niddah rapists" (breakers of the laws of ritual purity). Former Shas MK Rabbi Moshe Maya even called Supreme Court justice Dr. Elyakim Rubinstein, who is a religious Zionist, "an anti-God blasphemer who should be excommunicated."
And let's not forget all those week-kneed, too-liberal religious Zionist rabbis who are bastardizing conversion standards, dial-a-conversion-style. The same rabbis to whom Shas is now appealing to in efforts to save the haredim from Bennett.
The insufferable overflow of self-righteousness, and the hostility toward broader Israeli society, evident in haredi political behavior needs to be curbed. The haredi political juggernaut needs to be rolled back. Instead, it is time for moderate religious Zionism to reassert its place in matters of religion and state and public policy.
Bennett should not back down.