Behind the Burning Trash Bins

It seems that underneath it all we are observing yet another phase of ultra-Orthodox integration into Israeli society.

A curious fact went almost unnoticed during the ruckus surrounding the ultra-Orthodox community's demonstrations in Jerusalem: The Haredi parties are keeping quiet and are wary about threatening to leave the coalition, both in City Hall and the Knesset. Yitzhak Pindrus, a United Torah Judaism delegate to the Jerusalem City Council, even attacked the Eda Haredit in a radio interview, while his colleague from Agudat Israel, Shlomo Rosenstein, went so far as to tell journalist Nahum Barnea, "if I were secular, I'd support the annihilation of the ultra-Orthodox."

This silence can be interpreted as an admission by the ultra-Orthodox establishment that the positions of their extremists are indefensible, both in the Jerusalem parking-garage affair and the controversy surrounding the Mea She'arim mother who allegedly starved her child. It can also be interpreted as signaling that ultra-Orthodox politicians prefer the benefits of being in a coalition to unnecessary conflicts. But there's more to it than that.

It seems that underneath it all we are observing yet another phase of ultra-Orthodox integration into Israeli society. After moves to integrate into popular culture (with the Internet, cellphones and ultra-Orthodox rock concerts); the beginning of an integration into the labor market, academic studies, the Israel Defense Forces, the media and advertising; and a high-profile integration into politics - the ultra-Orthodox community is beginning to internalize popular ways of Israeli thinking.

According to this thinking, it is inconceivable to rally around a mother suspected of starving her son, even though she is "one of ours," and there can be no ideological justification for avoiding military service. In this vein, I have heard many young ultra-Orthodox admit over the last few years that the fairly common trend of completing voluntary work for Hesed Shel Emet and other public-service organizations stems from an urge to compensate for draft dodging. And recently, a prominent ultra-Orthodox figure told me in no uncertain terms that the main reason for dodging the draft was a fear of secularization, not ideological grounds.

The conclusion here is that the ultra-Orthodox demonstrations that seem so threatening are actually a rearguard battle of the old, hateful and separatist ultra-Orthodox ideology; a fight waged by a minority mustering whatever strength it has left to drag the entire camp back to separatism. But now is the time to offer a new kind of relationship between secular Israel society and mainstream ultra-Orthodox society, one based on mutual respect. The ultra-Orthodox would respect secular (and religious Zionist) wishes and join the national effort in military service, the labor market and core studies, while secular people would respect the ultra-Orthodox community's desire to adhere to its religious concepts in the new frameworks to be formed.

The way to achieving this new relationship, however, must be cautious and gradual. It would not be right to enforce our national objectives on the ultra-Orthodox; rather, this community must be approached through incentives that would tempt their young people to rescue themselves from poverty. In parallel, pressure must be put on secular politicians, whose survival instinct is a major obstacle to this new approach. The secular public must remember that concessions to the ultra-Orthodox are precisely what allows them to breed contempt for the secular majority. After all, only a spineless community would sell its essential values (such as sharing the military and national-service burden and education for all) for political survival.