Yesh Atid's Religion of Reverse Psychology

Yair Lapid's party is increasingly turning out to be the kind of religious party it promised to fight.

Aner Shalev
Aner Shalev
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Aner Shalev
Aner Shalev

Education Minister Shay Piron has good intentions. When he ruled, some years ago, that religious law bars Jews from selling homes to Arabs, he might also have had good intentions. When he became the first education minister to fund separate classes for boys and girls in state religious elementary schools he presumably had good intentions then as well. And when he canceled the Meitzav standardized assessment test and the matriculation exam in literature he did so in the name of values.

It's hard to attack Piron. It's easy to attack the head of his party, Finance Minister leader, Yair Lapid: for his arrogance and his broken campaign promises, for tormenting the middle class he claimed to speak for and for selling out for the sake of the alliance with Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and perhaps also for his good looks; definitely on account of his good looks.

No one would accuse Piron of any of those things. He's personable. He’s sympathetic. He's not an actor begging for affection, and that's why he receives it. He's genuine, and his famous confused laugh in the Knesset attests to that. He's not a pitchman. He means what he says. But what is it he’s saying?

Piron believes in values, and in our competitive and utilitarian era there's something refreshing about that. But God is in the details, and the details are adding up and becoming horrifying. At the height of the budget crisis and the heartbreaking cuts past the fat into the meat, the Education Ministry sees fit to allocate funding, for the first time, for gender separation in the state religious schools. The number of schools that separate boys and girls is rising meteorically, but until now it was funded by parents and other sources, not the state budget. The budgetary support makes it clear that gender separation is suddenly part of the ideology of Piron and his Yesh Atid party, which are also discriminating in favor of religious education (separation creates small classes).

Additional evidence of the ministry's support for gender separation comes from the Council for Higher Education in Israel, which Piron heads. The agency is encouraging and intends to allocate funding to an ultra-Orthodox campus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which will put gender separation and the exclusion of women into practice. Instead of encouraging Haredim to join the modern world, we are seeing a steady, gradual Haredization of schools and higher education. You voted for Yesh Atid, you got the state-funded exclusion of women.

Yesh Atid had called for the state to suspend funding to schools that don’t teach the core curriculum. But in the dead of night, in the cabinet session that passed the budget, Piron and Lapid changed their minds. It turns out that the issue of funding budgeting Haredi education without the core curriculum was only raised under the incumbent education and finance ministers.

At the same time, Piron is leading a worrisome trend of cutting the core curriculum throughout the education system, including in state nonreligious schools. Shortly after taking office he hastened to cut classroom hours and critical science budgets, perhaps in the name of certain inexplicable values.

In a kind of reverse-psychology strategem, Lapid put two rabbis (Piron and Dov Lipman) and a scholar of Jewish thought (Ruth Calderon) on Yesh Atid’s Knesset slate. The message was that the religious parties don't have a monopoly on Judaism, and that Yesh Atid is not an antireligious party. But the truth is that Yesh Atid is increasingly turning out to be a religious party.

Instead of behaving in a reliable and democratic manner it is based on automatic obedience and blind - almost religious - adulation of the leader. Now it is also discriminating in favor of religious education, undermining the core curriculum in schools and funding the exclusion of women. Next step, merging with the Haredi Agudath Israel?

Shai Piron, Israel's Education Minister.Credit: Shiran Granot

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