The people of Israel of have survived worse than the threats currently being made by Palestinians, John Kerry and Thomas Friedman. The betting is that Israel and Palestine will agree to continue talking for another year, if only to avoid a frontal insult to the American administration. Kerry and Friedman do not appear inclined to comprehend the threats faced by Israel and many others from the various streams of Islam, now at one of their historic feverish highs in both Syria and Egypt. Perhaps they should turn to something that may be easier, such as sorting out the Ukraine's problems with the EU and Russia.
A more serious threat for Israel is the separate nation within us.
While Islamic fighters are killing one another in Syria and trying once again to unseat the secular-military government of Egypt, Israel's secular and religious extremists are facing off with another of their periodic confrontations.
The very latest concerns the Supreme Court's decision against the payment of subsidies to Yeshivot whose students refuse to comply with IDF recruitment orders.
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis and Knesset Members are in full tilt against what some call a cabal between the CIA, Reform Judaism, and blasphemous judges who would require young men who want only to study holy texts to spend years in the national trash can of the IDF
The Supreme Court has agreed several times over a span of years with Israelis who have brought suit charging inequality in the way the government has excused the Haredim from military service.
The governmental responses have been to dither and dilute anything close to compliance with the Court's decision, and that seems likely to occur once again.
More important than reality is the symbolism of a secular attack against the Haredi communities. This latest decision produced the customary Haredi curses against the secular, employing that most extreme accusation in their arsenal, saying that the government was the tool of Reform Judaism.
Coming up is proposed legislation that from all the signs is the essence of Israbluff. That is, a bluff by Israelis meant to fool Israelis. The contents are not yet fixed. Reports about the content vary, and stress that there is still some pushing and tugging among those charged with bringing a final version to the Knesset where it will be subject to further change.
Most likely whatever emerges will be trumpted by radical secularists, led by Yair Lapid, as something that will even out the burdens between Israelis. In essence, however, it seems likely to postpone and minimize the drafting of Yeshiva students into the army or civilian service. Reports are that it will allow a Yeshiva student receiving a draft notice to delay his recruitment until the age of 24. Non-Haredi Israelis are drafted at 18.
The actual number to be drafted each year is not clear, and will be reduced by those Yeshiva students volunteering to serve. Moreover, Yeshiva students will have the option of civilian service as opposed to military service. That is likely to mean working in social programs designed to serve the Haredi community. There may be a waiting period of several years before any Yeshiva student has to consider the military, Moreover, the Haredim who serve will have a shorter period of military service than non-Haredi Israelis, salaries will be considerably higher for the Haredi soldiers, seemingly to account for their advanced age and family responsibilities. And built into their military service will be time for the study of Torah
If it looks like delay and minimal demands, it is too much for the rabbis and their politicians. Already there have been street demonstrations, organized by rabbis who consider any interference in religious studies to be an abomination.
The demonstrations were limited to hundreds of participants rather than the tens of thousands that the Haredim can muster when really pressed. These were led by extremists among the Haredi rabbis, seemingly hoping that their enthusiasm will spread if they can point to--or invent--stories of police overreaction.
What goes by the name of reform provides the best of all possible outcomes. It will provide religious and secular activists with reasons to boast to their constituents of accomplishment, as well as reasons to say that there is more to be done. That means greater burdens on the Haredimi to be demanded by secular activists, and work by the rabbis to postpone and lessen even further any imposition of burdens.
The IDF is also happy. It does not want the Haredim, with all the accommodations to be associated with them. They must be provided food at a higher level of kashrut than provided other soldiers, must not be trained by the women who provide much of the training for other troops, and will serve for a shorter period with special privileges of time for religious study, Shabbat and religious holidays.
If the IDF must take some Haredim in order to satisfy a political agenda, then it is good to have a small number at a minimum cost of resources.
This looks like material that might be considered along with a book I published a few years ago, The Politics of Religion and the Religion of Politics. The situation is not only ideal for the Haredim, the anti-Haredi politicians, and the IDF, but also for an aging professor who sees added justification for one of his ideas.
The book's point is that politics and religion are similar. Both appeal to true believers, with party or religious professionals and activists working to justify their organizations and doctrines. Detailed analysis, self-doubt, and skepticism are less important than general principles that stir emotions.
Both religious and political organizations are concerned to recruit and train supporters, keep up their loyalties to the cause, and must attract financing to pay for whatever it takes to keep the organizations going. For the rabbis, that means schools, inducements to attract and keep students, salaries for teachers and administrators. An important inducement is adherence to the doctrines of rabbinic Judaism as taught by the current generation of rabbis, and the exemption from military service along with payments for family support that have so far been received from the State of Israel.
The equivalent activities of politicians involve organizers to design and run campaigns, screen candidates, select those who will have places on the ticket, pay for what it takes to inform voters about the party platform, get them to the polls, and then convince them afterward that the party delivered on its promises.
There will most likely be no bloodshed in this confrontation. Haredim are more likely to unleash their curses rather than any life threatening weapons. Thou shall not kill remains a core issue. Escalation of conflict goes first to road clogging demonstrations at key intersections, the burning of trash dumpsters, battling police with untrained fists, and sticks wielded with little effect. If the more excited turn to stones, they are likely to be lobbed than set loose with anything like the potentially deadly slingshots that Palestinians have adopted from that of David.
Emissaries will go out to the Haredi congregations and their friends in the Diaspora, with assertions that the misguided Jews of Israel are once again embarked on a campaign to kill Judaism. Money will flow. Secular Jews will ridicule. All will be excited, and maybe even satisfied by the excitement.
The long term costs are easiest to postpone, but are as awesome as anything posed by the prospect of a third intifada.
The army and police have shown their capacity to deal with Palestinian violence, with enough force to postpone the next confrontation.
A rational Israeli--neither fervently religious not anti-religious, may conclude that it is not worth bothering with the Haredim. Let them live their lives of sacred study and material poverty, with a minimum of support from tax payers. It may not be fair, but it is more desirable than upping the level of political and social tension for a minimum of payoff in the service provided by Haredim who leave their academies.
However, there is a threat in the steady increase in the Haredi population, with many years of education that is useless for this world, and its drain on the national economy to which its members do not contribute. Associated with this are the community's disciplined voters, certain to maintain parties that will be a factor in national politics, and with even greater weight in Jerusalem and several other localties where the Haredim are concentrated.
Haredi birth rates surpass those of all Israel's population segments with the possible exception of the Bedouin.
On other issues there is more heat than light, or more claims that hard data.
Haredi and anti-Haredi activists each claim substantial streams into and out of the community. Newly religious Jews are welcome, and provided their own academies, but not fully trusted to stay the course, to fulfill all the commandments, or be accepted as marriage partners for established families.
Those who leave the Haredi life style may find themselves unprepared for a career, and shunned by family members. Also likely to be shunned, and seen as staining their families and spoiling the marriage options of siblings are those who wish to remain Haredi, but see their future in a period of army service, then work or university.
On the brighter side are technical colleges that recruit the Haredim, with separate classes for men and women. Many of their graduates go into programming and may advance beyond that in Israel's burgeoning high tech sectors, whose companies provide suitable workplaces in Haredi population centers.
We can hope for incremental moves away from economic disaster, without expecting anything close to salvation in our lifetime.
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