Opinion |

Finally, the Israeli Government Adopts a Zionist Policy for the Negev

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.Credit: AP Photo/Oded Balilty
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Anyone with the ability to divide their attention this week could turn it to what was happening in Israel, discovering a very significant resolution taken by the government – the establishment of a new city. The city, to be named Kasif, will be built in the central Negev for the Haredi population.

In the first stage, 20,000 apartments will be built, as well as an industrial zone for advanced technology. In addition to finding a solution to the dire housing shortage among the ultra-Orthodox community, the city, in the specific site on which it will be constructed, will assist, in this initiative’s secondary objective, to halt, even if only in part, the process through which the Negev is being taken over by the Bedouin community, a process which in recent years has taken on alarming proportions.

The resolution involves a significant expansion of the Nitzana educational eco-village, established by Aryeh (“Lova”) Eliav, a founder of the Labor Party. In the first stage, 10,000 people will live in Nitzana, which is situated on the Egyptian border in the southern Negev. This move has a political motive as well, of stopping various initiatives for potential land swaps with the Palestinians. The gist of these initiatives is that land in this area will be given to a Palestinian state in exchange for its “relinquishing” of a narrow strip in Judea and Samaria containing a high concentration of Jewish settlements.

The resolution adopted by the government, in which Meretz, Labor and the United Arab List have a veto, is part of a broader plan. This involves the establishment of 10 more communities, eagerly promoted by Housing Minister Zeev Elkin and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. It turns out that the “Muslim Brotherhood-serving Bennett government,” in the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, is promoting bold Zionist resolutions, in contrast to the latter’s own incompetent governments. Yes, the “United Arab List government,” as it’s constantly labeled by TV Channel 14 and the Galei Yisrael radio station, is initiating and implementing strategic Zionist moves where Netanyahu, who is the main raison d’etre of these media outlets, turned out to be totally incompetent.

The government decision was received, how surprising, with scathing criticism by the ultra-Orthodox. After the state has built them cities and neighborhoods in the north and center, they refuse to move southwards. What do they have to do with national missions, even if they don’t involve military or even civic service? The fact that the state will subsidize housing prices, with the usual generosity it bestows on this community, did not placate Deputy Knesset Speaker Yakov Asher. “This government,” he said, is trying to turn the ultra-Orthodox into fourth-rate citizens.” A further pearl of wisdom: “Let Minister Elkin send his children to live in [the Bedouin town] Kseifa, in proximity to his coalition partners from the United Arab List.”

Other Haredi functionaries, such as Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, responded in the same manner. Their condemnation of housing plans such as Kasif and of laws such as the conscription law prove how disconnected they are from the real needs of their community. The conscription law, adopted last month, in fact dispenses with drafting Haredim. Any yeshiva student can leave his studies at age 21, enter the labor market and acquire a profession. Despite this, Haredi politicians view this joke of a law as an “evil decree.”

If Kasi is built, the Haredim, in the absence of other solutions to their housing shortage, will fill the new city en masse. In doing so, at least in one area – the settling of the Negev – they will be transformed from a society that only receives support and donations into one that also contributes, even if scantily and inadvertently, to a national mission of incomparable value.

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