The joint photograph of the two rabbis of nationalism, Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef, being carried on their disciples' shoulders should have cried out like a thousand words: hand in hand, the knitted skullcaps and the black ones, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, all looking like a united tribe of zealots. That marks a change in the political landscape of Israel's right, of which the religious are the most active members - a depressing and dangerous change.
Israel's left and center, which loath the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox ), played a role in this. For years they pushed the Haredim into a corner, denouncing and hounding them, so now, the ultra-Orthodox have found a warm, loving refuge among the knitted skullcap wearers of the national religious camp, who are far more dangerous. For years, Jews of Middle Eastern descent faced discrimination, so now they, too, have found living space among the religious nationalists, and are drowning their social frustrations in hatred of a common enemy that has even less status, and faces even worse discrimination, than they do: the Arabs.
The left hounded the Haredim as it never hounded the national religious camp. Settlers who invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in the territories and Arab neighborhoods in Israel never experienced ugly persecution and denunciations of the kind endured by Haredim who "invaded" Ramat Aviv. Settlers who shot children in the territories were never condemned the way Haredim who open Chabad kindergartens in Tel Aviv are. Those who torched Palestinian fields and burned down mosques were treated more forgivingly than Haredi men who urged residents of secular neighborhoods to pray.
Those who extorted government funding for yeshivas were described in almost anti-Semitic terms, while those who extorted far more lavish and scandalous budgets for the settlements were met with indifference, acceptance and sometimes even respect and admiration. Money given to yeshiva students actually smelled worse to the left than money given to land thieves. Yeshiva students' failure to do army service was denounced far more vociferously by the left than the sometimes problematic service performed by settlers in the occupying forces.
It was hard to be a Haredi or a Shas member: Anyone who wore the typical ultra-Orthodox garb was considered a "parasite," whereas a settler was considered to have "values." And the result is now before our eyes: There is a unified religious bloc, a nationalist, racist, violent and inflammatory one.
Granted, few Haredim were present at the demonstrations for the rebellious rabbis; granted, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef mumbled something about his son's stupidity. Nevertheless, the path to a single, unified religious-nationalist bloc has already been paved. The end has come for religious moderates and ultra-Orthodox doves, and also for traditional Sephardim who longed for peace with the Arabs. Everyone now wears a single skullcap, the skullcap of racism.
It wasn't always this way. Nor does it have to remain this way. Once upon a time, there was a moderate National Religious Party; its ministers were the only cabinet members who hesitated about going to war in 1967. Then Gush Emunim, the settlement movement, swallowed up the mother party, which transmogrified into something unrecognizable before finally disappearing.
The Haredi parties also never took part in the racist, nationalist tango. They were content to fight for government funding for their yeshiva students and their other interests. And for this, they were ostracized.
Eventually, Haredim also started to settle in the territories, overcoming the hesitation of some of their rabbis, but they did so only because of the (scandalous ) economic incentives the state offered them to settle in a country that wasn't theirs. Unlike the knitted skullcap wearers of the national religious camp, most Haredim didn't paint their settlements in messianic hues.
Shas, too, was initially considered to be a moderate party. It didn't obstruct the left's efforts to forge an agreement with the Palestinians; during the fateful vote on the Oslo accord - though it's hard to believe nowadays - Shas Knesset members refrained from voting against. Where are those bygone days now, and where are we, and they?
Yet when Ehud Olmert resigned as prime minister and Shas sought to raise child allowances, Tzipi Livni refused; she preferred new elections. The left hailed her as a "woman of principle," and the results are well-known: Shas turned into the right flank of the most right-wing government in Israel's history. Two years later, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was already walking hand in hand with Lior, the most dangerous rabbi in the territories. And all because of child allowances.
This wheel can and must be turned back. We must not let all the religious be painted in the same color, even if the price is state allocations and allowances. This is a fateful issue, as they are on the verge of becoming a majority. It is therefore time to go backward and walk between the skullcaps once again.
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