The Poverty Traffickers

Shas' election campaign is focusing on the war on poverty. But this is the biggest and most infuriating hoax of all. The ultra-Orthodox population is indeed poor, but this is an intentional condition.

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

The media were beside themselves with excitement. Shas was finally cleaning house, and its slate from now on would be as pure as the driven snow. On Channel 1, Nitzan Chen was beaming with joy when he broke the news to Haim Yavin: Shlomo Benizri's demotion to sixth place on the party's list for the Knesset.

Yes, indeed, according to all the opinion polls, Shas is expected to win at least 10 Knesset seats, so Benizri is almost assured of a place in the legislature. But why spoil the party with facts? The fact, for example, that Yair Peretz admitted to fraudulently obtaining an academic degree (in psychology from Burlington College) with the help of plagiarizing papers, but he, too, was not thrown off the list, and was slotted into the respectable 14th spot.

The police National Fraud Unit announced recently that it had amassed sufficient evidentiary material to indict Peretz on charges of corruption, bribery and receiving benefits with respect to advancing the causes of two manpower companies specializing in foreign workers. But the media failed to mention this small fact, and spoke instead of the eradication of the corruption in Shas. Nor did it mention Aryeh Deri ("He's innocent"), who served time in jail, or other senior Shas officials who got caught up in criminal actions, such as Yair Levy, Rafael Pinchasi and Ofer Hugi.

The draft indictment against Benizri notes the offenses of taking bribes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels, fraud and breach of trust, conspiring to commit a crime, obstruction of justice and attempted subornation - all in relation to the importing of foreign workers. But Benizri says that if his name was Benizarovich, he would not be the subject of persecution.

And just who is preaching about persecution based on ethnicity? A member of the only Ashkenazi-free party in the Knesset. Racism that competes only with the opposite racism of United Torah Judaism.

Due to a sense of discomfort in this regard, Shas pulled another over on us last week. It presented Yochanan Steseman, former director general of the National Insurance Institute, as a candidate on its behalf for the Knesset. However, immediately after the media had heralded the event in big headlines, it turned out that Steseman was not promised a realistic place on the party's Knesset slate; instead, there came an untenable promise to appoint him health minister - as if Shas is already in the government and is also appointing ministers.

Shas' election campaign is focusing on the war on poverty. But this is the biggest and most infuriating hoax of all. The ultra-Orthodox population is indeed poor, but this is an intentional condition. Graduates of the ultra-Orthodox education system go out into the big world carrying an empty "tool box," insofar as employment skills in a modern economy are concerned. They do not study English, mathematics or the sciences; and without knowledge in these fields, the ultra-Orthodox graduate doesn't have a prayer of finding a lucrative job that will lift him and his family above the poverty line.

The Shas and UTJ lawmakers vehemently opposed the introduction of the "core curriculum" into the ultra-Orthodox education system - and they were successful.

And they are happy with the situation, in which some 75 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work, but are registered as kollel students and depend therefore on the sector's breadwinners and MKs to get them grants and allowances that allow them to subsist, despite the fact that in the Diaspora, they had always worked - studied and worked, and did not live at the expense of the community.

In addition, they encourage large families, because the larger the family, the deeper its poverty - and as such, it is more dependent on MKs such as Benizri and Peretz.

Hence, one should not be too taken by Eli Yishai's statements regarding the war that Shas has declared on poverty. Their sole intention is to reinstate the child alowances that were cut, and the kollel allowances that were reduced. They have no intention of combating poverty in all earnest. They are the poverty traffickers. They ride it all the way to the next good job in the Knesset.



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