This Is the Battlefront

It's not against the ultra-Orthodox that we must rebel, but against those who fatten them - against those who build their governments on destruction.

Something strange crept into Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai's honest words: "The public must rebel against the ultra-Orthodox," he said. Nu, we've accepted the advice and want to begin the rebellion; what do we do now?

It's not against the ultra-Orthodox that we must rebel, but against those who fatten them - against those who build their governments on destruction. And in that sense too, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are brothers: Their weapons are instruments of violence, and they would sell anything to be in the prime minister's shoes.

This week, we learned another exasperating statistic: One out of eight children in Jerusalem - only one - is studying in the state school system. And 20 years from now, only 20 percent, nationwide, will be studying in this system. That's not a forecast, it's a battlefront.

Due to over-irrigation, the ultra-Orthodox school systems have grown to dimensions that our forefathers never imagined, and our children will pay the price. And due to over-fertilization, leaders are also sprouting up, and ballooning like cucumbers turning into pumpkins. That's what happened to Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who started as a delivery boy for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's family but has now become a force himself.

He has become world famous as a defender of Jerusalem - a kind of Saladdin, but one of ours. In the Arab League, they speak of him with awe; U.S. President Barack Obama sent a personal envoy to placate him; and rumor has it that even in Beijing, they recently dedicated a special desk to deciphering his personality and activity.

Jerusalem interests Yishai exactly as much as Sephardi girls do - the ones the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox have been exiling behind the fence. Shas should have been the first to cry out, but instead, its leaders have been the first and the last to keep silent. Is it possible that Shas leaders are still humbling themselves like serfs before their masters from Bnei Brak? Is it possible that Yosef is "a great Torah scholar" in the eyes of Jerusalem's laymen, but quite small in Lithuanian Jerusalem?

Only one thing really interests Yishai: As a man without a shadow, only the shadow of his predecessor walks before him and pursues him: Is Aryeh Deri coming back? Did he ever leave?

I knew an education minister who wanted to change the situation 10 years ago already. He didn't suggest a "rebellion," but he did offer an alternative. In Shas-ridden communities, he built kindergartens and schools that would be equivalent to those of Shas' Maayan Hatorani schools in class hours and class size, in transportation and meals, and could thus compete with it. And wonder of wonders: Very soon the state school system prevailed, and the Maayan (spring ) began to dry up. That is what scared the rabbi and his emissaries at the time, and that's what has to be done now.

The same minister refused to pay blackmail - of NIS 100 million. He did not agree to buy power with money. Nor did he agree to put his deputy from Shas in charge of rehabilitating Shas' school system, which was rotten and corrupt, and some of whose administrators were on their way to prison.

At the time, people accused him of a petty, arrogant fight over authority. Even friends told lies about him, to the effect that he was delaying the redemption. NIS 100 million and one deputy minister, of what importance were they if they were the only thing separating us from peace? Now everyone is crying over the milk they spilled with their own hands, and they have yet to ask forgiveness.

The man who was prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, stood by Yishai and forgot his own interests. I was forced to resign from a job I loved. But I did not succeed in getting rid of the slander.