In Israel's New Government, the Right Calls the Shots and the Liberals Roll Over

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Protesters against the Pride parade in Mitzpeh Ramon, last week.
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

Who would have believed that a small community on the edge of a crater in the Negev would manage to create such noise, and especially among the LGBT community? This is what happened when gay people decided to hold a Pride march in the town in the heat of a summer Friday afternoon. But this isn’t a column on the issue of LGBT rights, an important matter that has aroused great emotion over the past week, even outside of Mitzpeh Ramon.

At the heart of our story stand the Garinim Toranim, literally Torah core groups. Since the recent riots in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities – including the attack on Rabbi Yehuda Mali, head of the hesder yeshiva Shirat Moshe, whose being situated in the heart of Jaffa has aroused great tension – these groups have led to discussions, most of which, from the liberal right through to the democratic left, we sugar coated. They were called the “heroes of fulfillment 2021” and were said to be “good people, serious and responsible,” and even “deserving of the Israel Prize.”

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What’s the connection to Mitzpeh Ramon and the Pride Parade? So, these “good people” come to places the country has neglected, put up their tents and take control of positions of power – or as they prefer to call it, “settle in the hearts” – and, as in the case of Mitzpeh Ramon, spread the sick doctrine of Rabbi Zvi Tau and change the social fabric of the place. So when Mayor Ronny Marom declared, in response to the decision to hold a Pride March in the town, that he doesn’t recognize the Pride flag, and also doesn’t recognize LGBT people as a community, he had a good explanation.

About 2,000 people with the right to vote live in Mitzpeh Ramon, and approximately 1,200 of them have fulfilled this right in local elections. Yeshivat Midbara Ke’eden (The Desert as the Garden of Eden Yeshiva – how all that poison dresses up as poetry!) and another local yeshiva, with all their teachers and family members, number a few hundred people. This is a decisive electoral force that Merom is turning to: In this context, it is easy to understand why he said amen to the ruling of the spiritual leader of the Noam party against the holding of the Pride Parade.

Both the important municipal jobs – director of the community center, and city treasurer/head of the welfare department – as well as the education portfolio are in the hands of the garin torani. They closed the schools belonging to the national religious education system and established a recognized school that has independence from the Education Ministry, receives less funding and costing parents more.

We need to understand that in Mitzpeh Ramon – whose original population was made up of immigrants from Morocco in the 1950s – LGBT people did not hide their lifestyle, and no one made a big deal out of it. The spirit was always pluralistic and tolerant, I was told by a Haredi woman whose sister is gay and lives openly with her partner. The farthest possible from the Middle Ages and Rabbi Tau and his party. A give and take relationship, political interests and maybe even a worldview, as Marom insists on noting, mixed together these and those and made them unrecognizable. Mitzpeh Ramon changed.

Soon it will happen too in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa, the city that “has deteriorated to the edge of the abyss” – if it depended on the head of the garin torani there, Rabbi Shmuel Sasson, who on Thursday turned to the residents of Evyatar and called for them to come and settle in Hadar, because it is a national mission and “the resilience of the city and the entire north and its character will be decided here.”

To a great extent, the unity government embodies the conciliatory spirit of the liberals toward the malignancy of the garinim torani’im. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked strolls around it as the final decider, from the negotiations over the Judicial Appointments Committee to the Citizenship Law and the compromise on Evyatar – Shaked does not move an inch from her position. The six Knesset seats of her party, in her opinion, are worth more than the six Knesset seats of Meretz.

The right asks sweetly to be understood, and the center-left immediately offers a hug. And what about Gideon Sa’ar, who is said to have certain liberal views? Marom supported him publicly as a candidate for prime minister, and in return Sa’ar praised him for his virtues. In his capacity as justice minister, it would have been more appropriate for him to have responded to the repression of LGBT rights in Mitzpeh Ramon.

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