Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5759 - June 23 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
How Not to Defeat Ourselves
By Rabbi Yitzchok Roth

In the elections of 5741 (1981), the Labor party received forty-seven seats. Four years earlier in 5737 (1977), the Labor party had crashed and only got thirty-two seats. In a short period of time, the party increased its power by fifty percent. A mighty victory in Israeli politics.

A short time after the elections, however, members of the Labor party gathered to discuss their defeat. Instead of a victory party, they held intense discussions on the reason for defeat. The reason: Likud, under Menachem Begin's leadership, received forty-eight seats in that election, and Begin had the seat necessary to establish the government. Labor's forty-seven seats left them in the opposition for another three years, and that was a defeat.

Victory and defeat are not absolute terms. They are measured according to expectations, goals and chances. In 5741 (1981), the Labor party wanted to regain control of the government after four years of opposition. The fact that the party successfully regained all the seats it lost in 5757 (1977) did not comfort its leaders, because they had failed in their main goal. Conversely, the Labor party lost seven seats in the last elections, bringing them down to twenty-six, and these include several guaranteed to Gesher and Meimad, but they still celebrated their main victory: their candidate was elected Prime Minister.

Any aspect of victory or defeat, therefore, must be put in the proper perspective. Shas, for example, gained seventy percent more power in the last elections, but even its staunch supporters admit that the ten seats they had in Netanyahu's days were worth a lot more than the seventeen seats they have under Barak. Yahadus HaTorah (UTJ) also gained twenty-five percent more representatives (1) and broke the four-seat-barrier. This is quite an accomplishment, the result of much toil and hard work. But success must be measured against the goal. If this amounts to more and more people who voted for the movement that promotes Torah ideals, then there's a reason to rejoice. One cannot belittle this achievement; it was a great kiddush Hashem. But if the goal was to become a force against the extreme, antiJewish left, then it is doubtful if there is cause for celebration.

These elections empowered the antiJewish camp. For the first time in the history of the State, a party competed whose sole slogan was the battle against Judaism. In a few short weeks, it did the unbelievable, and over 150,000 Israelis voted for it. Correspondingly, Meretz, a longstanding antiJewish party, did not weaken, but grew from nine seats to ten. Altogether sixteen seats -- over 400,000 voters -- voted against every dovor shebikedusho. Although that is less than the religious representation in the Knesset, it is a lot more than in the past. The antiJewish camp, whose goal is to uproot any trace of Judaism from the State of Israel, gained power in the last elections.

Three years ago, when Netanyahu won the elections and the antiJewish faction -- Labor and Meretz -- was weakened, the commentators and journalists tried to explain the phenomenon. Professor Yechezkel Dror, an expert in Israeli politics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said in a newspaper interview: "I think that Labor made a fundamental mistake. They did not take into account that most people are not against religion. Most Israelis have a certain relationship with tradition, and Labor overly identified itself with Meretz on the topic of religion. This alliance with Meretz on the subject of religion harmed Labor and caused them to lose many votes in the elections." This is an exact quote from only three years ago!

News reporter B. Yemini, a left winger, analyzed Labor's downfall and wrote: "In the past few months, the debate over the State's character intensified. At first, they promised the undecided, who determined the outcome of the last elections, that they are withdrawing from the territories to ensure a country with a Jewish majority. That passed. When peace seemed to be a realistic option, the enlightened began to bombard us with the message of a "citizen's country." In other words, not a Jewish country in any shape or form, but an exact replica of New York. However, for such an exalted goal, if the enlightened will excuse me, one does not need the State of Israel. That is exactly what the many traditional voters understood and they were hurt. . . They did not need Peres' declarations against religion. They absorbed and internalized the peace supporters' declarations against religion. They read in the newspaper about the peace supporting journalist who related how he specifically ate bread on Pesach in front of the eyes of the chareidim, out of spite. Although unintentionally, he became the symbol of everything they do not want."

Journalist David Landau wrote: "Yossi Sarid, head of Meretz, bears direct responsibility for the fact that Peres lost to Netanyahu. Because of Sarid and his harsh stance against religion and the broadcasting he authorized, many voters refrained from voting for Peres. Their support of Netanyahu stemmed from a feeling of embarrassment and revulsion for what they saw in Meretz's rejection of religion -- the secularism, a vision of a citizen's country, the call for religious polarization, the demand for separation of religion and state -- these issues are endorsed by only a minority of the nation. In the last elections, Meretz tried to put the (currently lost) battle of secularism on the bandwagon of the (certain) battle for peace. Like the scorpion in the well- known fable, they forced themselves on Peres and drowned him and themselves together."

Only three years have passed since these words appeared in the Israeli media. Only three years ago, the anti-religious slogans knocked the Left out of the government and promoted the Right. It was only three years before the upheaval of 5759 (1999), when the anti-religious slogans displaced the Right and installed the Left! What happened in the last three years? Did the State of Israel become more chareidi, more Jewish, taking on a new image that aroused the ire of the Jew haters? Did the Knesset pass any new laws curtailing the reckless freedom of the secularists, that created a nationalistic uprising against unbearable religious coercion?

We all know the truth. In the three years of Likud's rule, the disassociation between the State of Israel and religion only grew. All the religious power in the Knesset was unable to combat the legal agenda that catered to the desire of every poreik ol who hates Judaism. Basic Jewish values that had still been kept here and there, at least in public, were completely disregarded. The religious camp in the Knesset put all its energy into preventing anti-Judaism laws. No secularist, even Tommy Lapid's sworn supporters, can point to even a small point in which he will have to change his way of living due to "religious coercion". No poreik ol is prevented from eating whatever his heart desires, any day of the year, when ever he wants. Everything is hefker.

Why, then, did the secularist uprising break out and promote Lapid and strengthen Meretz? Why was Ehud Barak able to become Prime Minister by riding on the waves of anti Jewish incitement, when three years ago Netanyahu won due in no small measure to the nation's revulsion to the very same type of incitement? There is no one answer to these questions. An intense reckoning must be made, far away from the tumult of the victory parties. We must draw conclusions that compel us to try to fix past mistakes today. As a gut feeling, it seems that one conclusion is to minimize provocative words while attempting to mix into the secularists' lives.

During Netanyahu's government, there were a number of chareidim who appointed themselves watchmen of the secular camp, and contributed in no small measure to the public's anger against chareidim. Their actions did not gain anything. Their words had no practical influence, but merely served to incite and anger. When a chareidi man, especially if he is a communal figure, speaks against a secular event and threatens to thwart it in one way or another, although he knows in advance that there is nothing backing up his words, that is enough to create an image of unbearable chareidi control of the secularists' lives. We wrote about this in the past. We protested this many times, but there are those who thrive on this type of advertisement. What do we have to do with abominable productions? What do we have to do with strange processions that no Jewish foot would approach? Why does there always have to be some chareidi volunteer to assault, threaten and intimidate, as if an Iranian revolution guard has begun to function?

The basic fact that these headline-seekers forget, is that they are playing into the hands of those who oppose Judaism, who cultivate the group of vocal reactors, wanting to present them as representatives of Judaism who want to conquer everything good in the secularists' lives. What do we have to do with the abominations of the secular camp? There are those who speak about the "obligation to protest," but this protest endangers our small accomplishments as chareidim. After all is said and done, we are a minority in a majority of secularists; even if most of them are not anti-religious, they do not want any interference in their personal lives. Definitely not by force.

The foundation of chareidi representation has to be a feeling of the golus we are in. A bitter golus among misguided brothers. One must take positive steps to ignite the light of Judaism in every corner. But not to anger or incite in a nonconstructive fashion. That is not our job. Only last week, there was a media event (Eurovision, a song competition) that was considered a highlight of the secular culture. Once again, irresponsible chareidim threatened to explode the event, as if nothing had changed since 3 Sivan.

Once again the headlines proclaimed that the police force will protect the event from Palestinian terrorists and chareidi demonstrators . . . If we do not learn our lesson, we will find ourselves in the next elections, up against an increasingly powerful secular protest. Only if we work on building a spiritual infrastructure far from the public eye, diligently and with self sacrifice, will we be able to reach our goal.

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