Yair Lapid's Fickle Voters

The ones to blame for the current situation in Israel are the secular, middle-class people who carry the economy on their backs, work hard, serve in the army, have moderate opinions and believe in democracy and equal rights; Ultimately, only one day counts - election day.

Given the ultra-Orthodox community's chutzpah, which has been breaking records recently, more and more concerned citizens approach me on the street and ask: Well, how long will this go on? When are we going to stop giving in to the Haredim? What can we do about it?

What do you mean, I ask the concerned citizen, who immediately launches into a tirade: We must save democracy, we can't continue living in a Taliban state where Shas and United Torah Judaism set the agenda. We have to stop the discrimination against women and hatred of minorities. This situation - in which young ultra-Orthodox men don't work or serve in the army, but all the money still goes to them and the settlers - can't go on. Something must be done. What do you suggest?

I suggest looking the truth straight in the eye. Because the ones to blame for this situation are exactly those concerned citizens - those secular, middle-class people who carry the economy on their backs, work hard, serve in the army, have moderate opinions and believe in democracy and equal rights. They're the ones to blame. Because ultimately, after all the talking, complaining and demonstrating, only one day counts - election day.

When the January 2003 election results were published there were two big winners - Likud headed by Ariel Sharon and Shinui headed by Yosef "Tommy" Lapid. Shinui won a surprising 15 Knesset seats, which enabled Sharon to form a government that for the first time in ages didn't contain Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox parties. The result was immediate. The state's socioeconomic priorities were abruptly altered. The Religious Affairs Ministry was shut down, the yeshivas' budgets were slashed, the large child allowances and the other benefits for the Haredim were cut. In contrast, income tax and corporate tax were reduced, so the workers' situation improved and the parasites' situation worsened.

When Avraham Poraz of Shinui was appointed interior minister, the local authorities heaved a sigh of relief. They were no longer forced to transfer funds to religious institutions as a condition for receiving grants. Suddenly there were no "chametz supervisors" on Passover and the persecution of business owners who worked on Shabbat outside the cities stopped. People now had the option of secular burial and soldiers of Russian origin finally received Israeli citizenship. And this is just a partial list.

But all these achievements made no impression on Shinui's voters. They wanted a lot more in less time. So throughout Shinui's 20 months in government, its voters harshly criticized it. All Shinui voters wanted Lapid and Poraz to say and do exactly what the voters saw fit. Because they knew better.

The destructive condemnation increased until three months before the elections, when polls showed that Shinui was down to three Knesset seats or less. This sparked a rebellion in Shinui and split the party. The final result was that in the March 2006 elections Shinui and Hetz, the breakaway list headed by Poraz, didn't win enough votes to make it into the Knesset.

Thus Shinui voters' childish, impractical attitude led to their party's destruction. Thus Shas and United Torah Judaism entered the government in great force and have been there, deep inside, ever since. The consequences are evident, because the Haredi voters are cleverer. They're loyal to their parties under all circumstances. They sometimes moderately criticize Eli Yishai (Shas ) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ), but that doesn't alter their votes. They understand that if they don't vote for the party that represents them, they'll receive nothing. They understand that you can't get the whole package - but getting part of it is good, too.

So Yair Lapid is in for a difficult, frustrating period. It doesn't matter that he represents the secular, moderate middle class that works hard and serves in the army. It doesn't matter that he wants to give back to this community the money the Haredim and settlers have robbed from it. It doesn't matter if he's in favor of revoking the Tal Law - which exempts the ultra-Orthodox from the army - and supports equality and democracy.

Whatever the case, he'll be subjected to the poisonous arrows of criticism from the very people he represents. Because it's a matter of character, a kind of self-destructive urge, stronger than reason.

Read this article in Hebrew.