Herzl Is Turning in His Grave

The United States is apparently a very poor country. Fact. President George W. Bush decided to move forward the beginning of daylight savings time to save energy. And thus this past Sunday 300 million residents of the U.S. went over to DST, while outdoors snowstorms were still raging.

Apparently Israel, compared with the U.S., is a wealthy country. It has no problems about money and energy. Although the country imports all its fuel from abroad, and the price is breaking all records, this makes no impression on anyone here.

The Israeli government is not even dreaming of moving DST forward. It does not see fit to make better use of the daylight hours. Therefore DST in Israel will go into effect only two weeks from now. Because here politics determines everything, even the setting of the clock.

It all began in 2005, when ultra-Orthodox MKs waged a battle to limit the period of DST in our hot and light-filled country. They wanted it to begin only after Pesach ("so the children won't fall asleep at the Seder") and to end before Yom Kippur ("to make the fast easier"). That would have been the shortest daylight savings time in the world.

In the end a compromise was reached. Without Pesach, but before Yom Kippur. The compromise led to a shorter DST period than the norm, and thus every year Israel loses millions of shekels because of the superfluous use of electricity and energy, a decline in productivity, an increase in the number of traffic accidents and damage to the quality of life of the entire public. But the Shas MKs chalked up another achievement. They once again forced the hand of the secular majority.

Shas has come a long way from when it began as a social-welfare party with a political worldview open to compromise. It was only shortly over a decade ago that its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said that saving one Jewish life is a great mitzvah, and therefore it is possible to give up territories for peace. Today Shas passes Likud on the right.

Recently Shas chief Eli Yishai threatened that his party would leave the government if the indirect negotiations with Hamas continued. Previously he had threatened to resign if the issue of Jerusalem came up for discussion in the negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Yishai is now demanding "to strike at the terrorists with full force" and to enter Gaza with full force. He is pressuring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to renew construction in Givat Ze'ev north of Jerusalem, as well as in the settlements, in order to shatter any possibility of compromise.

Once upon a time Shas was modest. In recognition of the fact that they educate their sons not to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, its leaders understood that it was unethical to speak up on issues of the army and war. Now modesty has been replaced by arrogance, and Shas is not sensitive to the cynicism and heinousness of sending others to be killed in Gaza while their sons evade the draft on the home front. This week Olmert promised Yishai that the arrangement of "his Torah study is his vocation" - the postponement of army service - will not suffer in spite of the sharp increase in the number of draft evaders.

Shas once understood that it was undesirable to impose its worldview on the majority, that it was preferable to use friendly persuasion. Today Shas wants to change the country's image. Yishai has become an expert at extortion, and Olmert is willing to pay. He is buying Shas with money and benefits, as well as laws and regulations that are changing the country's character.

About two months ago Olmert agreed to reestablish the Religious Affairs Ministry for Shas. A few days ago he transferred NIS 450 million to Shas, a political gift to fund the yeshiva students, and recently he gave Rafael Pinhasi, one of the Shas strongmen (a former MK, with a criminal conviction) the position of chair of the Tel Aviv cemeteries council. More power, more money and more appointments.

Recently there was a dangerous proposal made in cooperation with Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog of Labor - which almost passed in the cabinet - to expand the powers of the rabbinical courts, according to a demand by Shas. Recently a Shas draft bill to restrict surfing the Internet passed its first reading, and the Shas minister of communications, Big Brother Ariel Atias, will be the chief censor. Just like Saudi Arabia.

Shas is currently promoting a draft bill that will restrict the right to an abortion, and an arrangement to censor billboards so that "immodest models" will not be seen on them.

Olmert also agreed to establish a team of ministers headed by Yishai to examine an increase in child allowances, and recently the government decided to establish a state conversion authority. By demand of Shas, the government allowed it to appoint its own dayanim (rabbinical court judges) to the conversion courts.

We are gradually and systematically losing the modern Western country in which we were educated. Olmert is selling the principles of humanism, tolerance, freedom and civil rights to Yishai in a liquidation sale. The creations of the founding fathers are drowning in the sea, and we are celebrating.