Ultra-Orthodox wheeler-dealers must not think the Israeli public very intelligent. If they thought otherwise, they would not dare raise the demagogic argument that people who support canceling special benefits for yeshiva students want to condemn thousands of families to starvation.
After all, there are other ways than state support for parents to prevent their children from starving − going to work, and only if that fails, seeking help.
For that reason, we should not accept the generosity of the Haredim, who are willing to let secular students receive benefits as well. Not only has it been shown that hardly any students meet the criteria in question, but in principle, Israeli society does not need secular loafers to add to the Haredi ones, but rather for the latter to be gainfully employed.
That is also the reason we should not accept the prime minister’s proposal to continue the policy of the stipends and “simultaneously” encourage the Haredim to go to work. Because if the ultra-Orthodox are offered simultaneous benefits whether they stay in their yeshivas or not, it does not take a genius to figure out which they will choose.
Indeed, a situation must be avoided whereby the Haredim will starve unless they join the work force. Funding incentives while they train or job search are justified, as is professional training and unemployment benefits for those who cannot find work. But only for those who have proven they are willing to work. As for all the rest, the special benefits must stop.
Anti-Semitism, the Haredim cry. Interesting that they do not make the same claim in the United States and the other countries where the ultra-Orthodox live, countries that maliciously refuse to fund their Torah studies. If the Haredim seriously suspected anti−Semitism, which is also forbidden to non-Jews, they would have already called in the Anti-Defamation League.
It is enough to express Israel’s unique nature as a Jewish state and the recognition of Torah study as a Jewish value by granting stipends to a few hundred truly gifted students (not only Haredim, but religious Zionists and even secular students) and not to tens of thousands of people that the Haredi establishment wants to keep dependent on it.
But complaints in this matter should be directed not only against those commiting the extortion, but also against those paying with money that belongs to the entire public and putting the future of Israeli society at risk. The address for complaints is not only the rabbis, but no less so Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu does not have to give in to the Haredim, certainly not to their every whim. Since 1990 and the days of “the stinking maneuver” − Shimon Peres’ attempt to form a narrow left-Haredi government by bringing down Yitzhak Shamir’s cabinet − and the days of Shas in Yitzhak Rabin’s government, it has been proven that the Haredim are really not the political fulcrum. The ultra-Orthodox street has become so right-wing that Haredim cannot really join a left-wing government, so the right wing shouldn’t fear a mass defection. Netanyahu could have established an alternative coalition with Kadima, and he should still do so.
As prime minister, he must take the initiative, while opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) must accede. She must also pledge not to bring down the government at the first opportunity, but rather to go with Netanyahu to the end of the government’s term (unless he breaks with the essential political consensus they formulate).
There are political risks on all sides to a move like this. But leaders in a society that demands of its sons and daughters serious sacrifices must also be prepared for some level of self-sacrifice for the sake of the future of the state as we know it.
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