Resurrect the Secular-liberal Agenda

There are many in the country who are convinced that it is impossible to wage a battle for peace while neglecting the question of what kind of lives we are leading here.

In an interview with Akiva Eldar (Haaretz, 16.11) celebrated author Amos Oz explained whom the new leftist movement which he and his friends established is geared toward: "The list will consist of Meretz members, ex-Laborites, environmentalists, supporters of Dov Khenin in the just-finished Tel Aviv mayoral elections, Reform Jews and Arabs. It is possible to enlist the five to six Knesset seats that the Pensioners received from voters who came to them by mistake, as well as Knesset seats from people who did not vote in the last elections out of apathy or despair."

It is difficult not to notice those to whom Oz and his friends are not appealing at all: the secular public of the middle class, those for whom the separation of religion and state, religious coercion, the discrimination along bloodlines, and the Haredi extortion trouble it no less than the peace process. Oz does not attempt to appeal to the 15 Knesset seats of Shinui that were left without an address during the last elections, despite that fact that it would be far easier for Meretz to attract these voters than those who supported the Pensioners. He does not mention any attempt to appeal to those who voted for Nir Barkat, those who conquered Jerusalem with a bang and swept away Haredi rule in the city.

Meretz did not fall due to its lineup of personalities. It featured the best faction of the 17th Knesset, five members of Knesset, all of whom are active and talented. Even the National Union, another impressive faction, cannot lay claim to such a record. Meretz failed because it allowed Shinui to carry the secular-liberal banner and ran for the Knesset solely on a political-social agenda. It decided to make do with the exact same agenda that Oz himself described when he said: "Our prime interest is peace and caring for the poor and the exploited."

It is reasonable to assume that many young people do not know that at one time, in the days of Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid, Amnon Rubinstein, and Yair Tzaban, Meretz was the party at the forefront of the struggle for freedom from religion. Meretz's decision to abandon the agenda of liberalism and freedom from religious coercion before the elections for the 16th Knesset was a major error which led to its fall from 10 seats to six. It repeated the error before the elections for the 17th Knesset, which resulted in Meretz failing to tap into the 15 Knesset seats once held by Shinui, the party which subsequently disintegrated. Meretz finished with just five Knesset seats. As a result, to our great shame, the 17th Knesset offered almost no representation for the secular public against Shas, whose demands grew and multiplied over the course of the parliamentary term.

Here is a synopsis of events concerning the issue of religion and state during the last Knesset: the Tal Law was extended by five years with nary an argument; the civil marriage law was not brought up for discussion; Meretz's voice was barely heard in the fight against an increase in child allowances; the campaign to introduce the core curriculum in religious schools was waged with only a whisper; the fight against the rabbinical courts, one of the most important battles for women's rights, was led by religious MKs from Kadima and Labor.

If the new leftist movement wants to take votes from Kadima, and if it wants to bring young and despairing voters to the polls, it will need to resurrect the secular-liberal agenda. There are many in the country who are convinced that it is impossible to wage a battle for peace while neglecting the question of what kind of lives we are leading here. This message was adequately enunciated by non-Haredi Jerusalemites, who went to the ballot box en masse to vote for Nir Barkat because they wanted a city worth living in and a mayor who did not do whatever the rabbis dictated.

It would behoove Oz and his friends to remember that the list of the oppressed of Israeli society includes 300,000 who are not affiliated with any religion, cannot marry here and whose path to Judaism is blocked by the rabbinical establishment. It includes hundreds of thousands of couples who divorce and are forced to endure a humiliating process in the rabbinical courts. It includes hundreds of thousands of children who are denied the right to a basic education that will enable them to make an honorable living. It includes tens of thousands of people who do reserve military duty though they could have stayed home if only some of the Haredi public was forced to enlist in the army.

Those in the new leftist party would also do well to remember that the real battle centers on education, the basic curriculum, and the children who are transferred to schools where they are made religious. In the Haredi education system, the children do not sing for peace. Whoever abandons education today will realize that not only is Israel descending into the third world, they will also discover an overwhelming majority against peace when the moment of truth arrives.