The political covenant between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett rests upon a joint hatred of non-Zionist minorities in Israeli society, the Haredim and the Arabs.
Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi reflect the anxiety of the Zionist mainstream that these communities are taking over the country. They fear that the changing demographics are creating a different reality here than what our parents dreamed of, and they believe they have to put the minorities back in their place before it’s too late.
Politics in Israel have always been tribal, and expressed in the incitement and hatred between ethnic groups and societal sectors, between the kippa-wearers and the pork-eaters. Likud’s rise to power in 1977 reinforced the division between left and right. The right hated Arabs and took on the Haredim as political partners, while the left hated the Haredim and took on the Arabs as partners, albeit in limited fashion.
Physical separation underlined the political separation. Jerusalem became religious, Tel Aviv secular. The settlers and the Haredi towns such as Elad and Ramat Beit Shemesh drew in national religious and Haredi Jews, while the Arab communities developed in the northern and southern periphery of the country. But this “out of sight, out of mind” attitude, as convenient as it was for Israelis in their day to day lives, failed to compensate for demographic realities.
The truth lies in the state’s annual growth forecast for the educational system. The Central Bureau of Statistics reports in its statistical annual that 46 percent of first-graders go to Haredi or Arab schools. These children will reach draft age in another decade, and they will be eligible for the labor market soon after that. If the current social order remains draft exemptions and underemployment for Arabs and Haredim the Israel Defense Forces will turn into an army of the minority, and economic growth will collapse.
Awareness of this trend has filtered into public consciousness in recent years and is expressed in declarations that our economy is great if one discounts the Haredim and the Arabs. It was unleashed in the social protests of the summer of 2011, when hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets. They protested the rise in prices of apartments and cottage cheese, but they meant that their country was slipping through their fingers, and they want it back.
Lapid and Bennett got the message, and they offered voters a chance to break the old divisions between left and right. Instead of hating just one minority, like in the old politics, they showed voters one could hate both Arabs and Haredim.
Instead of attacking minorities as traitors and parasites, as accepted in the previous political dialogue, Lapid and Bennett opted for moderate incitement and highlighted IDF service as a supreme value. That is how they took the election prize and established a counterweight to Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to deal with his ideological twin and his television twin.
Bennett and Lapid’s army is not an organization that defends the country, but a religion. In the equal burden debate, no one argued that drafting thousands of Haredim or sending thousands more Haredim and Arabs to enforced labor through national service would contribute to Israeli security. But that’s not the goal; the goal, rather, is pushing the non-Zionist minorities to the wall and presenting them as infidels.
Bennett demands that Haredim say the prayer for IDF soldiers, and they refuse. The army is holy to him, not them. Equality of burden can be obtained by a gradual cancellation of conscription and turning the IDF into a professional army, but that’s not the goal of Lapid and Bennett. On the contrary, they want to preserve the so-called burden as a tool for justifying extra social benefits which the minorities, who don’t serve and will soon be the majority, aren’t eligible for.
The demographic strengthening of Arabs and Haredim, and the increasing incitement against them only strengthens the leanings of isolationists and distances them from identifying with the state. Israel needs unifying leadership that will establish a new, inclusive social ethos, not divisiveness and internal conflicts.
It’s a shame there is no demand for these goods in politics, just new models of inter-tribal hatred.