By Shmuel Katz
So we have a government. A government that is being panned by the opposition and the media (they’re all leftists anyway) for pandering to the special interests of the members of the coalition, which I find kind of funny. After all, had the vote gone another way—a swing of five or six votes—the left would have been forming a government and pandering to their special interests. And they would have needed the votes of the chareidim to do so and thus would have had to cave to some of the chareidi interests as well.
It just surprised me that it took so much and so long to get the thing done. And I think the Likud did it backwards, because they wanted to punish the parties closest to their own positions. Rather than first coming to terms with Bayit HaYehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Kulanu, getting them into the fold at reasonable levels and then presenting a uniform “this is the best deal you can get” to the chareidi parties, they did the reverse.
Kulanu, viewed as the deal-breaking party, were the first ones brought in, which was a good move, eliminating any threat of a left-wing coalition attempt. But instead of then keeping with the theme of making a deal with those who are like-minded and will be working partners towards their goals, they went to buy the chareidi votes and attempted to use them as leverage against the remaining two parties, telling them, “This is what you get—take it or leave it” in a “we don’t need you anyway, we can always go to the other party” attitude.
Amazingly, Yisrael Beiteinu did not blink. Rather than compromise their party’s platform and goals, they refused to sign up. They may still join the coalition in the coming weeks or months, but their “no” to the Likud in the bottom of the ninth made the negotiations with Bayit HaYehudi critical to ensuring Bibi’s continued spot at the top of the government, paving the way for that party to get a lot more than was expected.
There is no doubt in my mind that the UTJ and Shas are happy to sell their votes for financial support and the continuation of the current state of living within their communities. Leave them alone and they’ll happily vote for anything external that the government asks for. In a country where so much is paid on the backs of other citizens, both financially and in terms of service to the country, I was disappointed to see that so much was promised in exchange for . . . votes.
A billion shekels to UTJ institutions (let’s please never hear another right-winger say that the Israeli government does not support Torah institutions); increases in the child-support allowance for each child in a family; control of the religious-affairs ministry; and, of course, the rollback of the infamous burden-sharing plan (or the “we are gonna start drafting some chareidim too” plan). And on and on.
This is not going to be a popular column in the Five Towns, and I am sure to get a bunch of nasty e-mails on this topic. But in a country with such a huge tax burden, a country where people are struggling mightily to take care of their own families and where the demographic trends will lead to the promises made to UTJ and Shas being funded by everyone else in the country, it is simply too much.
The state of Israel is the world’s single largest financial supporter (aside from G‑d Himself) of Torah learning at all levels in the history of the world. But there has to be some kind of reasonable limit to how much everyone else should be involuntarily paying. The math won’t work out.
Yes, there is a lot of waste in government. Yes, special interests are kowtowed to. But I am simply disappointed that there wasn’t some kind of compromise available, other than “Here, take what you want.” Of course, had the left won, I am sure I would be disappointed in their horse-trading as well, and there is no doubt that the vehemence with which they attacked the chareidi parties and electorate would have been quite dismaying. And I would rather err on the side we are on than on the other side, given a choice.
I guess I am just disappointed in the system. I am not sure what other way would be more reasonable, though maybe something like in England, where they have a fixed number of seats but the candidates are elected by districts. Or maybe something in between, where there is some kind of mix between geographically elected representatives and members at-large, with equal rights and status. I don’t know. All I do know is that this system stinks. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.