Op-Ed: On Becoming Part of the Zionist State
As a young medical officer newly inducted into the IDF back in 1980, barely speaking Hebrew, I will forever have ingrained in my memory the day that as part of our Officers Course, we were taken on a walking tour of the Jerusalem hareidi neighborhoood of Mea Shearim on a beautiful spring day.
Upon entering the neighborhood, as we were given background information on the history of the hareidi and hasidic dynasties that have lived in the area for over a hundred years, we heard shouts of Nazi, Nazi. At first I didn't realize that these words were aimed at us, I thought maybe due to my limited Hebrew, I misunderstood what was being shouted, so I asked my fellow officers naively, are they shouting at us? This was my first encounter with the fringe element of the hareii community in Israel.
Since then I have had many additional encounters with members of the hareidi community. One memory that stands out was in 2001, as a member of a Health Ministry planning commission, I was sent with a medical team to meet with the Mayor and city council of B'nai Brak, so as to assess the city's preparedness for a possible repeat of a potential missile attack by Saddam Hussein. The City Council, run at the time by a non-functioning municipality, showed little interest in conveying basic information to the hareidi public in B'nai Brak. It dawned on me that not only on a personal level, but even on a collective and community level, the hareodi community may feel detached from the existential threats that hover over our heads and therefore feel no need to participate in efforts to defend the State of Israel.
I wondered whether what is behind the hareidi struggle against enlistment and serving in the IDF is simply that they don't want to endanger themselves by serving in an army whose mission is to protect the Zionist state. On Memorial Day. as the sirens wail, when the whole nation stands motionless for a moment of silence as if we are all angels, many in the hareidi community do not stand still because they have ruled that a siren is not a Jewish way to remember the dead. Yet their leaders, except for the fringe groups, tell them to remain inside and study Mishna. Six wars, over 22, 000 soldiers killed in duty, over 10,000 bereaved families of fallen soldiers, do have meaning to this community. But do they feel superior to the rest of the nation and therefore don't find it inappropriate that the non-religious and Zionist religious youth sacrifice themselves on their behalf?
How is it that a hareidi political party such as Degel HaTorah has not grown in leaps and bounds in terms of mandates, or that the Sephardic political party Shas has lost over 5 Knesset seats in recent years, even though the hareidi community multiplies with 8-10 children per family? Why have they maintained the same number of seats more or less in the Knesset in recent years? Is being left out of the new government that will soon be sworn in, indicative of a major upheaval in the hareidi relationship with the Zionist State of Israel? Has the community reached a point in which it can no longer sustain an isolationist anti-Zionist culture? Is the hareidi community in Israel self-destructing?
Any hareidi that visits America usually undergoes culture shock.
Any hareidi that visits America usually undergoes culture shock. Not so much because of what he sees outside of shul, but because of what he observes in shul. Many American hareidim, free of the draft exemption for yeshiva study that prevents them from working or studying secular subjects, study many hours of Gemara in a Yeshiva or Kollel during a typical work week, live a hareidi lifestyle, while at the same time going to college to earn a degree, make a living and support their families. He can maintain a high standard of living and not be any less hareidi than his poor counterpart in Mea Shearim.
In recent weeks, it has become evident that the emerging political constellation that resulted from the recent election will most likely keep the hareidi parties out of the government. The alliance with Lapid led to much criticism within the religious Zionist fold, but it also led to an unprecedented expression of hareidi rage towards the religious Zionist public, culminating in a call for a settlement boycott. Radio commentators on the hareidi Kol Baramah radio station said that it was time for the hareidi community to liberate itself from the settler movement, with which it has an 'artificial relationship'.
“We need to think twice about supporting those who hate us. It’s about time we stop being suckers,” said Avi Bloom. a Kol Baramah commentator. A senior columnist for the Hamodia newspaper, Yisrael Hershkowitz, wrote, "The settlements will pay the price for the costly arrogance” of Bennett. Hershkowitz said companies located in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria or companies owned by settlers could go out of business if boycotted by hareidim.
It seems that as the hareidi parties prepare for life in the opposition, journalists who represent this community have launched all-out war against religious Zionism and the Dati-Leumi public.
Let's not be surprised if in the coming months, the hareidi parties, having been partners to right-wing governments for the past 30 years, jump ship and make cahoots with left wing political parties who want nothing more than to drive a wedge between Netanyahu and his former coalition partners, the hareidi parties. On the other hand, they may join the current government later on, despite their fury at Bennett.