Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Kislev 5766 - December 14, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Planning for the Worst

They have been talking about it and trying it for some 50 years but now it seems that Prime Minister Sharon may pull it off: the formation of a political party that is located at the center of the Israeli political spectrum.

Every few years a few prominent politicians break off and try to claim "the center." For example, the wishfully named Centrist Party in the elections of 5759 (1999) drew in politicians from both Likud and Labor. However it won only six seats and quickly disappeared.

In the last election, Shinui claimed to represent the political center and won 15 seats. However they did not fool anyone and it was clear that their real platform was just being anti-religious. According to the polls they are due for a sharp drop this time around. Several other parties that offered themselves as representatives of the Israeli center at various times shared the same history and it is hard to even find anyone today who remembers their names.

Now, according to the polls, Sharon will pull it off. His party will be the largest one, and he will form the next government, for better or for worse.

Still, there are almost four months to the elections, and what counts are the ballots cast on election day and not the answers given to pollsters. This was dramatically illustrated in the polls before the Labor Party leadership elections which gave Peres an easy win — though he lost narrowly in the actual ballot.

Yet this time it seems that Sharon is leading the pack in a direction that all are moving. They are all shedding — or at least hiding — their ideological baggage of the past.

Labor leader Amir Peretz started out by emphasizing his enthusiastic support for the Oslo agreements, but soon stopped talking about that subject and now just speaks about the oppressed workers.

The move to draft President Moshe Katzav as the leader of Likud was an attempt to bring in someone more bland than the current leaders. Uzi Landau, the most ideologically "pure" of the Likud leadership candidates, has already dropped out of the race.

On the Right, the National Religious Party has dropped its requirement that its leaders and members be religious and is trying to form a united front of the Right with the secular National Union.

Most observers call this a move to the Center of Israeli politics, but it seems to us to be something else entirely.

Israel is a state that was founded on ideological grounds. Everyone involved in setting it up approached the subject on the basis of his or her ideology. Some felt the state was a fulfillment of Leftist ideals. Some felt it was a fulfillment of cultural or national Jewish ideals. Some felt that its founding was a fulfillment of religious ideals.

The real controversy was over the proper ideology, and the policies that were advocated, and ultimately the political choices made were an outcome of the ideological way the person or group viewed the world. If Israel was a fulfillment of "universal" human goals then concern for Arabs rated high on the scale of values. If Israel was a realization of specifically Jewish aspirations, then things were ordered differently.

Those who did not participate in the ideological debate altogether, like the chareidim, were accused of being galuti. In the Diaspora, it was said, we could not realize our true selves and had to make do with the best that could be attained under the circumstances. Here, in Our Land, it was claimed, we can — and therefore must — strive to achieve our ideals and not just to get by.

Now there is a rush to pragmatism from all directions. Sharon is clearly a pragmatist and has been one during his whole career. His leadership is not based on any ideology. He has never even articulated an ideology. Labor's appeal is to people's pockets and not their hearts or minds. It is hard to see NRP's move as anything but a move away from ideology: we presume that they are not more in favor of secularism than before, just less insistent on their religion. From our perspective this is not necessarily better or worse than before. But it does make them less competitive with us.

Torah Judaism has not changed its approach. We remain with our underlying — but overriding — deep idealistic commitment to Hashem and his Torah, but that leads us to make pragmatic political choices. To be a chareidi Jew means to go in the way of Torah as interpreted by gedolei Yisroel shlita — and not to tilt to either the Right or the Left.

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