The polls are consistently showing that Kadima, Likud and Labor would win a total of some 70 Knesset seats, and this creates an exceptional opportunity. For years those who voted for these parties have felt that their interests were being trampled in favor of the religious public and were told that it would be impossible to set up a government without the ultra-Orthodox.
The Sharon-Shinui government showed that it could be done. In view of the polls, it may prove easy, in the wake of the upcoming elections, to form a government without Shas and United Torah Judaism, and reconstruct the secular Sharon government. Such a government would be able to cure a few of Israeli society's ills and correct a few deep-rooted administrative deficiencies.
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni already have proved that they can make difficult decisions and take risks. This is an opportunity they cannot waste. Here are a few initiatives they can and should implement in such a government.
b Enact a civil union law. This would enable any couple to formalize its relationship without requiring rabbinical services for marriage or rabbinical courts for divorce. It would also finally solve the problem of the 300,000 new immigrants who are defined as having no religion and are forced to marry overseas.
b Pass a property distribution law that would distinguish between property distribution and divorce and considerably decrease the extortion power of husbands and rabbinical judges.
b Equalize child allowances by providing equal allowances for every child, regardless of the child's place in the family. This would finally turn child allowances from special allocations for ultra-Orthodox and Arab families into a real social stipend.
b The outrageous laws that grant the private ultra-Orthodox schools equal status to the state education system and exempt Haredi yeshivas from the core study program must be canceled. Breakaway private education must be treated as breakaway private education.
b Cancel the Religious Affairs Ministry and turn the religious councils into municipal departments. Cancel the "Chief Israel rabbi" titles, which have become ridiculous and which nobody takes seriously. In their stead, appoint a president for the Great Rabbinical Appeals Court and a rabbi to head the religious services authority.
Such a change would not cause a rift with the national-religious public. On the contrary. The National Religious Party was partner to the committee that prepared the civil union legislation. National-religious Knesset members spearheaded the drives to reduce the rabbinical courts' powers. The national religious public is considering setting up an alternative rabbinate to the Chief Rabbinate. One may presume that it would commend many of these moves, even if some of its representatives would fight against them, purely because of an uncontrollable conditional reflex.
None of these suggestions would impose on the Haredim edicts they could not live with. We are not suggesting, heaven forbid, recruiting yeshiva boys to the army or forcing ultra-Orthodox children to study civics, which is pure heresy. We're merely suggesting that the ultra-Orthodox be denied improper perks that were achieved by political power, such as inflated child allowances or budgets for schools that don't teach the core program.
In her speech at the President's Residence, Livni spoke of the public's despairing of the politicians. The upcoming elections afford these very same politicians a rare opportunity to give the public the government it really wants.
The public would also trust this government to know how to act vis-a-vis the Iranian issue. Perhaps such a government would not be able to make any peace overtures, in which case it will have to be dismantled after fulfilling its domestic duties. But it may yet succeed, in which case it would be able to pass off any peace agreement it reaches.
In the past such government constellations were avoided for fear of Shas' revenge. But in reality there is no such risk. After all, what could Shas do if all the large secular parties join together in this initiative? Perhaps join the coalition?
The ultra-Orthodox should pray three times a day that this is exactly what will happen. The Sharon-Shinui government produced a certain respite in the hatred toward the ultra-Orthodox and religion. In recent years, thanks to Shas and its UTJ associates, hatred for religion and Haredim has been on a steady increase and ultra-Orthodox representatives repeatedly sully the name of God in public. Every God-fearing Haredi, therefore, had better ask his maker: my lord, save us from the ultra-Orthodox parties and give us a secular government.
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