Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Teves 5766 - January 18, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Shinui — A Destructive Flash in the Pan

After probably not refusing a single media interview in the years since he entered politics, Shinui leader Tommy Lapid has not said a public word for several days now. Most observers say that he will probably announce his retirement from politics, but his supporters say that if he really knew what he wanted to say there is no way that he would be silent for so long.

The Shinui "movement" was started by Avraham Poraz, the former number two on the party list. He invited Tommy Lapid to join as the number one, and thereby got a deluge of publicity as the media enjoyed quoting Lapid's wisecracks, and as a result they got 450,000 votes in the last election entitling them to 15 Knesset seats.

Last week in Shinui's democratic internal primary elections, Lapid just barely held onto his position against a straw candidate and Poraz was left out entirely. It was clearly the final blow as the polls showed Shinui hovering around the threshold for entering the Knesset, suggesting that they would almost certainly not make the cut. Voters can tell the pollsters whom they like, but at the last minute they are not likely to throw out their vote on a party that may not get in at all.

Some pundits are saying that this is the end of the Shinui era. The truth is that there never was such a thing. The huge vote they received was on a mass whim that had no substance and no staying power. There is a pool of votes that sloshes around between the left of the Labor party, the Meretz-Yachad party and smaller parties. Lapid drew it all in with his colorful campaign, but his single-minded focus on bashing chareidim got boring for most people who think about other things in life.

Even Yossi Sarid, the former leader of Meretz who was no friend of the chareidim, wrote that the Shinui party was not a "party of one man and one banner," but rather "a party with one leg" and that "single leg was also one that trampled every ultra-Orthodox Jew as if he were a cockroach and his children as if they were worms." Master of metaphor that he is, Sarid asked, "How far can you get without two legs or even crutches, before you trip and fall flat on the floor?"

Shinui, Sarid says, will disappear without a trace. "It is slipping off the public table like an oily omelet splattering on the floor. The omelet must be thrown out, and the oily smudge wiped. No egg will come of this omelet, not even a scrambled egg."

That is not exactly true. Sarid finds himself outside politics today because Shinui's success was partially at the expense of the seats of the Meretz party that he led, and his party wanted new leadership as a result.

Also, the chareidi community is still suffering from the single-minded obsession of Shinui with cutting government support to our families and institutions. To be sure Sharon, Netanyahu and the NRP bear passive responsibility for not doing more to prevent the severe and unfair cuts. Relative to the budget of the entire State, the amounts gained by many of the cuts to programs which benefited chareidim were too small to have any influence and could not have been considered important to Netanyahu's general economic policies. However Shinui was determined to do whatever ill it could to the chareidi community, and none of the other partners in the government stood in its way.

All the high-thinking political analysts say that the Israeli political system needs more stability and that one way to bring it that is to raise the voting threshold to eliminate small parties that can have undue influence. Some people say that this is really just another ploy to try to minimize or remove the chareidi influence on Israeli political life. Although we will not support such moves because of the immediate threat they carry for our existing institutions, we confess that such moves do not really worry us. As long as the Israeli political system is reasonably democratic, our influence will be felt, in one way or another. That is not only due to our not-any-more-so-small-and-growing numbers, but also due to the fact that our ideas resonate strongly among portions of the Israeli body politic that far exceed our hard-core supporters.

All those analysts would do well to reflect on the Shinui phenomenon, in which a party achieved an awesome but temporary success that allowed it to force changes that are ridiculed even by the likes of Yossi Sarid, and were really wanted only by the fanatic anti-chareidi fringe, which managed to draw a number of votes that would pass any reasonable threshold that could be imposed.

Ultimately, it is not the political system that governs Israelis which needs to be reformed, but the Israelis themselves.

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