Of all things, the significant success of Shinui in the outgoing Knesset is threatening to bring about the party's downfall. According to the latest opinion polls, Shinui's voters are planning to punish the party for upholding exactly what it had promised, and facilitating a government without the ultra-Orthodox, without religious coercion and without exaggerated financial allocations to religious institutions. How ironic: Shinui very temporarily made the ultra-Orthodox parties irrelevant; and as a result, its voters believe that Shinui itself has become irrelevant.
In practice, the disappearance of problems of religion and state and religious coercion is nothing more than an illusion. The polls are predicting around 15 Knesset seats for the two ultra-Orthodox parties - eight to 10 for Shas, five or six for United Torah Judaism. Past experience shows that in general, Shas gets many more seats at the ballot boxes than it does in the polls, so it is reasonable to assume that the ultra-Orthodox parties will be even stronger than predicted.
Shinui, in contrast, has fallen off in the polls to some four or five Knesset seats.
It isn't difficult to speculate about who Kadima would rather form a coalition with, and who would be able to dictate terms to Ariel Sharon.
So what is the significance of the return of the ultra-Orthodox to the government? One example was provided by Shas Chair Eli Yishai, who declared in an interview with Haaretz that he intends to intervene for the first time in the school curricula of the state education system and demand the addition of Jewish studies. Tamar Rotem's series of articles on Shas revealed that not only did its time in the opposition not weaken the party, but that it took advantage of the time to further cement its Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani private school network, which, to a large extent, is an organization for bringing children to religion. If Shas returns to the coalition, it will be able to open many more schools.
One of Shinui's major achievements was the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry, leading to a significant reduction in budgets to religious services and institutions, and bringing the Yeshiva Department under the authority of the Education Ministry. Yishai told Haaretz that after the elections, he plans to demand the reestablishment of the Religious Affairs Ministry, or, alternatively, the establishment of a religious affairs authority that would encompass all the powers once held by the ministry.
The public, so it seems, has already forgotten what it is like to live from one of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's epithets to the next - from "blind goat" (Benjamin Netanyahu) to "the leader of the garbage gang" (Sharon); from "snakes" (the Palestinians) to "men who have sex with menstruating women" (the Supreme Court justices). In recent years, with the ultra-Orthodox parties in the opposition, they also lost the ability to undermine the Supreme Court. If they return to the coalition, their struggle against the justices, which peaked with a massive demonstration at the entrance to Jerusalem, will be renewed.
Another important topic: Child allowances were reduced four years ago from NIS 850 for the fifth child and onward, to the current sum of around NIS 400. The state saved billions. Yishai has made it clear that he will demand that the allowances be raised again to at least the level they were at prior to the Halpert Law - namely, NIS 650 a month, or around NIS 3,800 for a family with eight children.
If this transpires, the allowances will again become the principal tool for financing ultra-Orthodox society, leading to the slowing down, or halting, of the welcome process of the ultra-Orthodox entering the job market.
It looks like Yishai will be back at the cabinet table in three months' time, along with two or three of his party colleagues. The rights of the secular majority will again be trampled, and the mechanism that channels allowances and benefits to the ultra-Orthodox sector will begin working again at full steam. It is disconcerting to think that the Knesset will be devoid of a force to be reckoned with that will fight on behalf of the interests of the secular and against religious fundamentalism.
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