A Revolution Etched in Ice

Of all the agreements reached between Shinui and the National Religious Party on Friday, the strangest is, without question, that calling for turning Sunday into part of a long weekend.

Of all the agreements reached between Shinui and the National Religious Party on Friday, the strangest is, without question, that calling for turning Sunday into part of a long weekend. If anything, Shinui should have sought to minimize the advantages of the Shas religious school system - as well as other religious educational systems - whose aim is to bring people to ultra-Orthodoxy. It would have been appropriate for Shinui to condition its participation in any coalition government on a long school day in all development towns and socio-economically weak neighborhoods (though the populations there usually do not belong to the middle class that the party represents).

Instead, Shinui is promoting an idea that, if it is implemented, will provide the ultra-Orthodox education systems a decisive advantage - a full day in which the public schools will not provide classes but the ultra-Orthodox schools will. No long weekend will convince the ultra-Orthodox to absolve children from the study of the Torah. If until now parents transferred their children to ultra-Orthodox schools because of the long school day, free transportation and lunches, then an additional day of school will certainly be the clincher. In other words, Shinui and the NRP have gone a long way to possibly assist Shas in raising its next generation of constituents.

Judging from the outline agreement of Shinui and the NRP, the former's secular revolution is beginning to look a lot like the "civil revolution" of former prime minister Ehud Barak: a lot of declarations and public relations stunts with very little substance. A revolution etched in ice.

Take for example the proposal to pass a law that will replace the Tal Law (on drafting yeshiva students) within a year: this can only be interpreted as being seriously contemptuous of the voter's intelligence.

The Tal Law does not necessitate granting yeshiva students a deferment from military service, but allows the defense minister to do so. In any case, there is no pressing reason to change it. In order to draft yeshiva students, what is needed is a coalition agreement stating the defense minister will cease implementing his authority to grant deferments from military service, or at least limit the deferments to a quota of married yeshiva students with families. But the deal that Shinui made does not focus on a quota; it is simply a complete collapse of its positions.

Have the elected members of Shinui experienced some sort of enlightenment during the coalition negotiations that made it clear to them, just as it did to the Tal Committee, that it's impossible to forcefully draft the yeshiva students? To what extent is this enlightenment linked to aspirations for the comfort of a ministerial chairs?

Like a woman who always falls in love with what is impossible, such is the secular voter who repeatedly puts his faith in parties promising to set up brigades manned by yeshiva students. Like that same woman, the secular voter finds himself abandonned once more and humiliated.

According to the agreement, the Ministry of Religious Affairs will also be dismantled over a year, even though it is possible to do this in two to four weeks according to plans drawn up during Yossi Beilin's tenure as head of the ministry. However, the question is not whether the ministry will be eliminated but what will happen to its programs. For example, will happen to the incomes routinely provided by the ministry? In a sense these are grants that bypass National Insurance provisions, and whose sole purpose is to provide pay for married yeshiva students whether or not they meet the criteria for such financial support. These grants cost the state NIS 140 million per year.

In fact, the sole immediate gain promised to Shinui is that the state child allotments will be equal [no matter how many children in the family]. This is an achievement because it goes beyond cancellation of the Large Families Law: it ends the use of the allotments as an incentive for large families.

Instead of civil marriage, Shinui managed to obtain agreement for the setting up of a committee to deal with applications of those ineligible for marriage, as if the secular voter does not have enough committees.

One of the creative solutions that Shinui and the NRP are discussing is the possibility that the Family Courts will not term their activities "marriage" but "registry of partnership," but on identity cards it will be stated that the couple is married. A sort of miracle thing. Of the sort Rabbi Kadurie is famous.

If there is something that could justify the entry of Shinui into the coalition, it is a subject that enjoys very little attention. Adding the missing articles to the constitution: equality, freedom of expression, legislation, the judicial system, separation of religion and state and social rights. This could really alter the character of the state and provide genuine protection to democracy. If Shinui brings that about and Israel becomes a properly functioning democracy with a complete constitution, Yosef Lapid and Avraham Poraz will have very good reason to feel comfortable in their ministerial seats.