Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday asked the cabinet to approve a sweeping "reform" of the state's horse-trading relationship with the ultra-Orthodox community. His plan involved granting the Haredim an exemption from the draft, and a future cut in the stipends of married yeshiva students, in the spirit of the ruling of the High Court of Justice.
The resolution that was passed reflected the cabinet's capitulation to the political demands of the Haredim, who want to share the state's resources without sharing its burdens. Due to opposition from a few ministers, including those closest to him, however, Netanyahu won approval for only part of his plan, and did not submit the proposals relating to the draft to a vote because of "lack of time."
In its attempt to perpetuate the distorted arrangements under which the Haredim are exempt from serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and married yeshiva students who do not work receive state support, the premier's plan violates the principle of equality. Even worse is the fact that he attempted to camouflage the true nature of the "reform" by creating the misleading impression that it would increase the burdens shouldered by his political partners in Shas and United Torah Judaism in various areas of life in the country. The draft exemption was thus disguised as "one year of national civilian service," whose details are still murky. Maintaining the stipends to married yeshiva students, in violation of the High Court, was presented as a cut that will be implemented in another five years - long after the end of the current government.
Haredi politicians have always manipulated Israel's governments for their own ends, exploiting the fact that they hold the political balance of power in order to free their constituencies from sharing the burdens: For example, the Haredim have been liberated from studying core subjects in their schools, from compulsory military service and from the need to work - while living off the public's largesse in the form of stipends and allowances. Now even many members of the community recognize that the current situation cannot go on because the national economy will collapse under the growing burden.
But Netanyahu is not aiding them - despite the fact that he understands full well the need for the Haredim to enter the workforce. As finance minister he did not shrink from cutting allowances to Haredim, so that the overly generous system of entitlements would stop being an incentive for idleness. But now Netanyahu is willing to do anything so that he and his government can survive.
And the price for that is being paid by the young Israelis who serve in the army and struggle to pay their university tuition fees, along the way to a life of work and carrying the burden of supporting themselves.
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