Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar 5766 - March 22, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











An Interview with MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni

By Betzalel Kahn

Rabbi Gafni, with elections for the 17th Knesset less than a week away, what is the significance of this period for the observant public?

We are currently in a completely different situation compared to what we have been accustomed to. Until now the discussions and the battles were over how much money we could obtain for Torah and education institutions, but from now on the situation is entirely different. Even if we secure funding, we don't receive it. We face a battle that is primarily over legislation, regulations and criteria. The Justice Ministry and the legal advisors at government ministries are backed by ranking officials and the courts, and they allow us to be harmed in such a way that even if at the political level agreements are reached with us, the money does not get transferred by the bureaucrats.

How can this be solved?

What we will have to do, if indeed we have the power to accomplish it and a coalition cannot be assembled without us, is to change legislation, regulations and criteria in government decisions. We won't demand more money but rather a change in the legislative stance toward Torah and education institutions. To achieve this we'll need a great deal of power, because this is not a matter of money. They will fight against us and keep the money from reaching its destination.

I'll give you two salient examples: The legal advisors are not willing to transfer NIS 28 million in funding for talmudei Torah even though they took a much deeper cut than the rest of the education system. Another example: Chinuch Atzmai busing. This is a struggle that has been going on for years and that got much worse in recent years. There is money for busing from the NIS 290 million ($62 million) UTJ received in the budget agreement, but they drag things on for a month with money that does not materialize, another three months they do us a favor and then for two months they drag it on again. We have to put a stop to this once and for all. Many Torah organizations depend on busing [which is also integral to] the whole issue of Jewish education in Israel, not just the education of the chareidi public. This is a case of education for a sector that is interested in Jewish education. If there is no way to fund these activities we will face a very serious problem.

What currently weighs in the balance is not more funding or less funding, but an existential struggle for the entire Torah system in Israel. There is a battle to simply do away with us.

Who wants to do away with us?

The secular, anti-religious establishment, which also receives backing from some religious people, and most of all from ranking officials, jurists and courts. I am not including the political ranks in this. If they need us they stand by us, if not they oppose us.

Therefore the question of what is the significance of UTJ's strength is whether to give power to those who want to persecute us or to give us the power to alter the situation from the bottom up. This is not what took place in the past elections or the three previous elections. This is something new we are all witnessing. So if you want the talmudei Torah to be funded the way they really deserve to be without doing them any favors; if you want Chinuch Atzmai to continue running properly or that the harm done to Torah institutions stops — harm that can be critical — and the same applies regarding all issues affecting the chareidi public, the question falls away. Not to speak of the matter of . . . separation of religion and state . . .

Doesn't the problem stem from senior officials who receive signals from high up to scheme against the chareidim?

Beyond a doubt if the government education system suffered blows like ours for supposedly legal reasons — and those who are familiar with the matter know there are no real legal grounds — and the secular establishment was brought to a standstill, the media would open all of the news shows with these problems. Our problems can be heard here and there in out-of-the-way corners of the media. No attention has been focused on the catastrophe of a cultured, egalitarian country not paying as it should. If this were to happen in the secular establishment they wouldn't let half a day go by without the media pouncing on it. But in our case they are not afraid of someone coming along and saying, "They are really letting you get away with murder." The justice system, the media and the ministry officials — without making generalizations — are happy over this. And it's not just secular people in the system. Therefore it is very clear that in order to change the situation it has to be changed from the bottom up and to do that takes a lot of power, because we are not backed by the media.

And the problem is the same regarding religious services?

In this area too, what happened is that the Likud and Kadima — both of them together because they were in the same 40- mandate government — along with HaIchud HaLeumi, the NRP and Shinui, dismantled the Religious Affairs Ministry with appalling irresponsibility. They did not think of any solution for the day after, what would become of religious services, the debts to be paid to rabbonim, the employees and all of the service providers in this system in Israel. They did it with total abandon in order to be in the coalition and to occupy the seats, and I blame all those who were partners in this move . . .

The workers have to receive their pay and a legislative change has to be made as I tried to do — and because of the other religious parties it failed. If my law had passed we would have made a legislative change and the religious council workers would have become state workers and received their salaries on the first of the month. This time around this has to be done.

How did it happen all of a sudden, when none of this took place in the past?

There has been a change in the country. Everything needs to be legislated and there has to be legal backing. On the issue of religious services there is less sympathy and here too, we will have to make a far-reaching change, which we are already working on — both in funding for Torah and educational institutions and in religious services. We know what we want. We have identified the problem and the solutions. The question is whether we will have the power to do it.

What are the solutions?

Legislative change, reorganization and raising the level of budgeting for religious services. That way we won't have to talk about money but about the standing of the rabbonim and the workers, rather than what has been the case over the years. We cannot have the situation, which has been taking place in recent years, in which along comes the Justice Ministry and determines that the religious council workers are not workers whose wages the state has to pay. The legislation has to be completed in a clear way and with precise regulations, because without this the situation will go on and it has to be changed from the bottom up. This is the challenge before us.

Are you sure it will help? Won't the hostile figures continue to look for ways to undermine religious issues?

I am sure. Everyone is watching the battle. You don't have to be involved in the details of the matter to see there is a battle being waged over the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Chareidi Jewry is rising up and flourishing while the entire secular system has collapsed. The secular system is on the bottom rung in the Western world.

When I was asked in the Education Committee why Israel is on the bottom rung in international surveys, I told them Jews are not mediocre. They are either at the top or at the bottom. When Jewish youth in Israel was stripped of Jewish values it descended down into the abyss according to international standards.

Their education system collapsed. Parents are afraid to send their children to school. Not to speak of the leisure culture among secular youth. The level of violence has reached unprecedented heights, and in this kind of reality, when they see chareidi education succeeding — according to international gauges as well, not just that our education is solid — they scheme against us. They say we raise ignoramuses but it turns out we have better command of [secular] subjects, too, particularly at girls' schools.

Envy and hatred lead them to lose their senses. It's hard for them to admit what they spent decades teaching has totally collapsed. It's hard for them to admit the chareidi way led by gedolei Torah succeeded. There is an ideological battle [and] in this battle the defenses and the remedy are clear. What the future holds in store — Hashem yeracheim. Every period requires a certain remedy. We hope they do teshuvoh and admit their way failed and ours succeeded. Therefore every possible effort has to be made to strengthen the UTJ list . . .

* * *

Apparently the fact that Shinui was ousted from the government and totally collapsed has not helped, for the scheming continues and they have successors: government officials who scheme against us.

Shinui was a phenomenon that was previously unknown and I hope will never be again. Never before has a party appeared in Israel whose entire platform has nothing to do with security affairs, social affairs or economic affairs, but only seeks to slander, harm and cause every other sector of the population to hate the chareidi sector, which is not small. Unfortunately this party received 15 mandates and that was very frightening, although we could always say — and it may be true — many people voted for Shinui because there was nobody else to vote for; they didn't want to vote for the right and were disappointed with the left. But the very fact this hatred and terrible instigation was its only platform [was alarming].

And we remember the previous election campaign was frightful in a manner reminiscent of dark days in Jewish history. The phenomenon itself, regardless of the problems themselves, demanded every effort be made to destroy it. Then with siyata deShmaya, a lot of shrewdness and sophistication, and very focused activity, and under the direction of gedolei Torah every step of the way, we managed to disgrace them in the eyes of the public and within their own organizations.

I won't forget moves we made under the precise direction of Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita. We conducted negotiations that put them to shame. We were in the middle of negotiations that came to naught because Shinui was in the coalition and we had received instructions not to join the coalition. Quarrels began to break out in the Shinui Council, quarreling that disgraced them in the public eye and among themselves as well. Through our very sophisticated moves they totally disintegrated in an unprecedented way. This was the first stage and then [our] budget agreement with the Likud took them out [of the coalition]. But their disintegration, their vanishing from the political map in a way never seen before, was an instance of Hashem yilocheim lochem. It was a war waged against them from the Heavens. This war was one of UTJ's notable achievements in the current term, i.e. that Shinui smashed to pieces to the point of cherev ish berei'eihu.

But Shinui was not our underlying problem to begin with, but that there are large segments of the population in Israel that are able to vote for a party whose platform was war against the chareidi sector. But within the regular parties there are people who are much worse. Fortunately Shinui did not do anything. They created an atmosphere of hatred and the large parties are liable to carry through. If a large party takes control and can do whatever it wants without us, the danger will be much greater than that posed by Shinui.

Are you hinting at Kadima?

I'm not hinting about anyone. To me there is no difference between Kadima and the Likud, between Labor and Meretz or even the NRP. When the NRP was in the coalition and controlled the Welfare Ministry they harmed and cut the budgets of Torah institutions funded by the Welfare Ministry much more than the ministries controlled by other parties did. Chareidi institutions had a budget of NIS 64 million [$14 million], which was cut to NIS 23 million [$5 million] within one year.

Do you think Shinui created a phenomenon that spread through the government ministries, allowing the chareidi public to be targeted?

Shinui was an indication. We have a battle that goes back many years. If chas vesholom the chareidi public had not succeeded we wouldn't have grown and our institutions would not have succeeded, chas vesholom. The Torah institutions would not have grown and they would not have fought against us. But the reality of the situation is different. In every place, from Dan to Eilat, there is a beis knesses, a mikveh, a kollel, a yeshiva and a Torah-based school. All of these things create a phenomenon, as I said, of a battle waged against us.

It doesn't have to be accompanied with hatred. Shinui was an indication that a problem like this can exist. The danger is from all of the secular parties and sometimes from a religious party as well. There is only one remedy against this trend: a strong UTJ, strong enough that we can confront this.

I want to tell the public one thing unequivocally: It really doesn't matter so much who UTJ's MKs are, but rather UTJ's strength. The MKs have the ability and the skill, but the question is also one of power: five, six or seven mandates. One or two more mandates in the preceding term would have changed the picture entirely. The coalition with Shinui would not have formed. Politicians make very cold calculations. They take out a pen and paper and check who has more mandates and set up a coalition accordingly.

Someone might come along and say he has criticism or claims to lodge against us, or just doesn't have the time to vote. He can sit at home but sometimes a few votes is enough to lose a mandate that could have been crucial to the fate of chareidi Jewry in Israel in the coming years. In history one will be able to examine what was the turning point for the worse in 5766 and calculate how one or two mandates were lost because of considerations like these and others among a few chareidi or religious Jews who invest much more on a daily basis in other matters and when it comes to such a fateful decision in this day and age, because of a lack of attentiveness, it could come about that history will point to 5766 as a hard year that was a turning point for the worse, because of Jews who didn't go to vote.

Why are we persecuted? Because of our success?

This is clear. All of these battles would have never taken place had we not succeeded or if we had remained a very small sector, like many years ago, if the institutions and yeshivas had not succeeded and flourished. I sit and participate in Knesset committees, in all of the forums dealing with issues not necessarily related to the chareidi public, and I see their perspective on matters. It is very clear that if we hadn't grown the way we have, in both quantity and quality, everything would have been completely different.

And there is another issue which is of much greater importance and here, too, we stand at a crossroads: our responsibility towards the traditional sector in Israel. During the last term, which was unprecedented in the level of difficulty we encountered, the secular parties did not manage to pass even one anti-religious law of substance, but on the other hand no religious law passed either. We remained vigilant with all our might and we had siyata deShmaya. Even the terrible coalition Shinui was in did not succeed in passing any anti-religious laws, including less significant laws that would have had repercussions for the national- religious sector as well. Even laws with various clauses that could have harmed halachic issues.

But nowadays we are hearing talk from the secular parties, including Kadima, about changes in Shabbos, marriage and divorce and issues related to the traditional sector. People could change their whole way of life because of legislative changes. If marriage and divorce prohibited by halochoh are made possible, there will be a serious, destructive breech in this sector. If, choliloh, there is a separation of religion and state in this country both the observant and the non-observant public will be harmed. The majority of the population is traditional and if there is no separation of religion and state, and marriage and divorce is done according to halochoh, generally the traditional sector keeps what the national laws say . . . But if the laws change, choliloh, it won't be our children who are affected. Rather we have an obligation toward the traditional sector, toward which we have a mutual obligation, for if we cannot preserve the existing situation everything will be destroyed, choliloh.

And do you say these things to both the convinced and the unconvinced?

I imagine that those who read these remarks say to themselves that I want to persuade them to vote. This is true, but there's more to it. I am familiar with the situation, I live it — day in and day out. I'm in the heat of the battle with the MKs at the forefront against figures that are not necessarily anti-religious but government officials, government ministries, the Knesset and its committees, and I know where things are headed. Beyond a shadow of a doubt if we don't have strength everything could go down the drain and everything depends on the voter turnout.

You are talking about six or seven mandates changing everything, but to achieve this wouldn't UTJ need ten mandates?

Six or seven mandates could definitely change everything. This is not theoretical. It is a reality that could conceivably transpire. Everything hinges on one or two mandates, which could alter the destiny of the character of the State of Israel in matters related to the traditional sector as well as the chareidi sector and government bodies' attitude toward it.


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