Regarding today’s front page story in the Times: "Some Israelis Question Benefits For Ultra-Religious."
Here’s mistake number one, often made by the ultra-unaware: All "ultra-religious" are not the same. All yeshivish-types are not the same and not all Chasidm are the same and most of them aren’t afraid of an honest day’s work. Chabadniks don’t sit around waiting for a handout. You tell a Chabadnikt there’s a job in the Congo or Saigon and he and his wife say "When do we start?" Plenty of Satmars take the early bus, too. When Americans speak of welfare queens and hustlers, they’re not speaking of chasidim.
JJ Gross, of Jerusalem, points out in a letter to the Jerusalem Post (Dec. 16) that you can’t dump the chasidim and the yeshivish "under a single rubric," even if "to the undiscerning eye they all look the same…. [There] is huge difference between the hasidic and the “yeshivish” communities.
"Hasidim are historically disposed to do an honest day’s work, while the yeshivish believe others should do the work for them. Indeed, even within the realm of vocations that are necessary for the very maintenance of Jewish life, such as the writing of Torah scrolls and tefillin, typography for religious texts, ritual slaughter and kashrut supervision, hasidim are ubiquitous while the yeshivish are nowhere to be found.
"Perhaps the government should concentrate its job-generating efforts on the hasidic communities. It might find both the rebbes and their followers receptive to ideas that can wean families off the dole. Once such efforts begin to pay off, it would be time to cut all subsidies to the yeshiva world, which shamelessly subsists on life support and bites the hand that feeds it."
Here’s another point: When conservatives in the United States would criticize welfare programs by saying, "they should go out and work," that was considered ugly and racist by many of the same readers of the Times who now say, "Yeah, those ultra-Orthodox should go out and work." Why is the first statement racist and ugly but not the second? We’re not told how many want to work and how many can’t find work. What we do know is that cheap generalizations that would never be allowed in the United State for blacks or even illehal aliens are freely administered by ultra-American Jews when it comes to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox.
The article tells us: "In addition to the men, more than 50 percent of haredi women do not work, compared with 21 percent among mainstream Jewish women. About 75 percent of Arab women do not work." Would we say that Arab women (and men who don’t work) are lazy and don’t want to work but live off Israeli subsidies? Why are Arabs living off the state not an issue but Orthodox Jews are?
Demographics: One of the main reasons why the Jewish Surrender Lobby on the left keeps saying that Israel has to run up the white flag is the alleged reality of demographics, particularly the Arab birth rate that supposedly will threaten to make the Palestinians the demographic majority west of the Jordan River.
But the Times article reports, "The ultra-Orthodox… make up 10 percent of Israel’s population of 7.5 million, but are increasing rapidly… while the Arab fertility rate has been dropping." Well.
The Times adds, "haredim still marry young and favor large families with eight children or more. Enrollment in ultra-Orthodox primary schools has increased by more than 50 percent over the last decade."
So, doesn’t that solve the demographic problem that so torments the Surrender Now activists?
The Times reports: "Several months ago the [Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel] issued a report that caused widespread alarm: If current trends continue, it said, 78 percent of primary school children in Israel by 2040 will be either ultra-Orthodox or Arab."
Why is that a problem? Ask anyone at J Street, would it be terrible "If current trends continue, 78 percent of primary school children in Arizona will be either illegal immigrants from Mexico, whose parents are not paying taxes but living off medical and eductation subsidies paid for by a increasingly taxed white minority?"
Would that be a fair and reasonable question? So why is it fair for there to be "widespread alarm" if 78 percent of Israeli students are ulta-Orthodox or Arab, supported by an increasingly taxed "white" (non-black-hatted Orthodox, non-Arab) minority in Israel? Why is one question racist and xenophobic and not the other?
The Times reports: "There are also signs of growing anger among mainstream Israelis: University students over the last weeks have blocked roads in protest of stipends amounting to $30 million a year for the eternal students of the kollels, which are seminaries for married men. They argued that they should receive similar benefits."
Why doesn’t the Times ask Orthodox Zionists, or Likudniks, or settlers, what they think about government subsidies for leftist university students and academics in Israel — recipients of massive government subsidies, as well as payoffs to extortionist tenure protection — who urge boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel, who slander Israel as an "apartheid" state, who declare Israeli leaders to be "war criminals" and thereby subject to arrest if these government leaders dare step foot in Europe — should their government subsidies be slashed?
Why are massive subsidies for these academics who are active enemies of the state not be every bit as much of a concern as the subsidies for the equally non-Zionist but relatively harmless yeshiva students?
The Times reports: "More than 2,500 haredim and other religious soldiers have served in a combat battalion [and] about 1,000 haredim have served in Shahar, a special army program set up in late 2007 for ultra-Orthodox married men," but that limits the discussion rather than illuminating it.
Instead of that narrow close-up, let’s pull the camera back to see that draft-dodging on the Israeli left is booming, while 40 percent of IDF officers are Orthodox. So, if anything, there is a trend to the more conservative, traditionally-raised Jews stepping up in service to the country. That trend is far from the impression given by the narrow focus on the most extreme Orthodox.
One Big Lie should be put to rest, the lie that yeshiva subsidies are the result of political coercion. There have been, in recent years, less than 20 Knesset members out of 120 that can be counted from Orthodox parties. Is Israel’s system so absurd that less than 20 Knesset members can dominate the other 100? Do you really think so? There have usually been as many Arab or Communist Knesset members. How come they can’t wrangle the same subsidies?
Because it is a Big Lie that Orthodox coercion has anything to do with yeshiva subsidies anymore than Medieval literary coercion has to do with subsidies to Medieval literature departments in American universities. Both the Israeli and American governments subsidize just about anything in a classroom.
If you insist that the problem is coercion by Orthodox political parties, then here’s my gift the anti-haredi Israelis: Stop whining and download a copy of the United States Constitution. Make it the law of the land, and dump your surreal Rubik’s Cube electoral process that rewards single-issue minority parties — such as the haredi parties that supposedly so annoy you.
And while we’re at it, dear Israel, your Supreme Court (with the exception of Justice Neal Hendel) stinks, too.
Israel is an independent country and I respect their sovereign right to subsidize leftist academics and haredi yeshivas, to have an absurdly activist Supreme Court, to maintain settlements, and to allow pro-Hamas scoundrels to serve in the Knesset. I love the place, but I don’t have to take all their complaints all that seriously. Sometimes, Israeli political hustlers are just blowing smoke, just like here in the States.
Today they’re blowing smoke about those mean ol’ haredi yeshivas. Come on, you’re such a great democracy, you don’t like something, change it. You’ve had 60 years to change it.
No democracy works perfectly but Israel’s electoral system is particularly amateurish and more susceptible to lobbyists — including the yeshivish welfare lobby — than even what we have here in the States.
If Israel insists on having a legislature comprised of only minority parties and political alliances more suited to a reality TV show, instead of representatives elected by district, then Israelis will continue to have the system that Israelis, secular and haredi, seem to want.
When Israelis takes the idea of district representation seriously, then I’ll take their complaints about haredi blackmail seriously.