By Larry Gordon
It is amazing how the quiet in Israel arrived almost in the same unceremonious way that the escalated violence began a scant two weeks earlier. It is certainly additionally remarkable that the Gaza war, or fighting, or however history will shortly categorize it, ended practically on a dime. It was just in time for the Likud primary election that took place on Sunday and with ample time to campaign for the upcoming elections scheduled for January 22, 2013.
From this vantage point at this stage of the political game, it looks fairly certain that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will once again be selected by his party and voters at large to lead the country. Beyond that there is a great deal in Israel that is way up in the air that will be decided by the voters come January.
It may be more pronounced in the aftermath of Gaza, but Israel is very much isolated and alone in the international community and will need a government of people with courage to take on and confront that reality. A former Knesset member and icon of modern Jewish activism, Rabbi Meir Kahane, used to say, and would probably repeat the sentiment in the current situation, that what is needed in Israel is “a Jewish head and a Jewish fist.”
One of the realities that need to be dealt with is that Israel cannot waste its time and energies on being recognized, but rather has to express its acceptance of its isolation on the world stage as its fate and destiny. That does not mean turning our backs or thumbing our noses at our neighbors (as they do to us), but rather to stop dreaming and fantasizing about being acknowledged in international forums with anything resembling parity with other nations on the globe.
One of the outcomes of this reality should be for the State of Israel to look inward and do what is good for its citizens, the people at home, and stop checking on the pulse of the rest of the world.
At the same time, Israel is a classic and successful democracy—one of only 22 real democracies in the world—and one that the rest of that region and perhaps even the rest of the world can learn a great deal from. What it needs more today than ever before are thoughtful as well as moderate voices. But that doesn’t mean backing up and extending so-called good-faith gestures and conciliatory actions to the Palestinians without reciprocity, as has been the case too often in the past.
The next Knesset needs some fresh approaches and directions that can get things done from the inside looking out and vice versa. There are some new faces and voices that may manage to make their way into the Knesset this time around, and over the next few weeks leading up to the elections we will focus on some of those personalities.
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A Leftist Chareidi?
Dov Lipman moved from Silver Spring, Maryland, to Israel about eight years ago. In Baltimore, he attended Yeshivas Ner Yisrael and Johns Hopkins University. Last week he was selected by Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid to serve as the chareidi representative in a party that many in the Orthodox/chareidi community in Israel view as anything but chareidi-friendly. The Jerusalem Post described Lipman as “leftist chareidi,” and I asked Lipman on Sunday as we talked on the phone from his home in Bet Shemesh what he thought that meant. “I really don’t know,” he said. “I think they meant moderate chareidi. I’m not a leftist and neither is Yair Lapid,” Lipman said.
The easiest thing to do when categorizing someone politically is to paint them with a broad brushstroke that attempts to park them somewhere on the very loosely defined extensive political landscape that exists today.
So what is “moderate chareidi” anyway, according to Dov Lipman? “Well, in the States it is not such a big deal to be both a talmid chacham, that is a Torah scholar or at least someone that is comfortable in a Torah lifestyle, and also be educated and have a career,” he says. “Here in Israel,” he adds, “we are still breaking ground in that direction.” He says it his belief that chareidim in Israel today are looking to strike that balance, to be able to be part of the yeshiva world but also hold down a full-time job or pursue a career that allows them to support their families without feeling like pariahs, doing something wrong or not belonging to a community that they may have grown up as part of.
“America has that and I think chareidim in Israel want that,” Lipman says. And that’s why, he explains, he joined Yesh Atid and decided that the path forward advocated by Yair Lapid is the right direction for Israel to be headed in. Lapid made a name for himself earlier this year by expressing his belief that it is imperative that chareidi youth be compelled by law to either join the IDF or perform some form of national service. This could be achieved by working for the military in some supportive role or even in jobs as simple and helpful—as well as rewarding—as working in nursing homes or hospitals with the elderly or handicapped.
This is a way of life, Dov Lipman says, that is good both for the community and for the country. Lapid, Lipman says, is not anti-Orthodox or anti-chareidi in any way, shape, or form. He adds that Lapid is certainly looking to change the status quo, but that the changes he and his party are promoting will result in a more efficient and healthier State of Israel.
As for Lipman’s role in the new political party, the Bet Shemesh resident says he is hoping to bring to the public in Israel the idea that Torah can be prominent in one’s life while one is being educated or joining the workforce; they are not contradictory. “The biggest problem in our community today is that men in their thirties with a wife and five or more children are waking up and trying to figure out how they are going to go about supporting these families that they have raised.”
“It is not a pretty scene, but I have to say that the chareidi parties in the Knesset and in the seat of power are not representing the best interests of the chareidi population,” Lipman says. And he adds emphatically, “The reality is that today they no longer represent the will of the chareidi population.”
Certainly not everyone would agree with that assessment, but at the same time one would have to acknowledge that the rumblings in the chareidi community seem to increase with each passing year. And they are also an important and perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the State of Israel, and the country can only benefit from their becoming productive members of the workforce.
“No one is saying that we have to forcibly pull young religious Jews out of our yeshivas in Israel,” Dov Lipman says. But, he adds, it has long been acknowledged by many that only a small percentage of yeshiva men are cut out to actually devote their full time and efforts to Torah study. Lipman says that it is his objective and that of Mr. Lapid to gradually introduce the idea to this segment of the population that it is acceptable to integrate Torah study and education or work, or both.
“I met recently with a group of boys in Bnei Brak,” Lipman says. “They had to sneak out of their homes to meet with me at 1:30 in the morning because they wanted to hear about the possibilities of enrolling in education courses that would be compatible with their yeshiva studies.” Lipman points out that the statistics in Israel indicate that 2% of youth leave their homes in their mid-teens, with many living on the streets and getting involved in drugs and other unsavory and destructive activities. “In the chareidi community,” he says, “it is 7% of kids who drop out.” He says there is no excuse for that number to be so high and growing, and he wants to be involved in a political party that will address these troubling issues.
This is just a glimpse at the internal policies of Yesh Atid and how those policies can possibly interface with the ultra-Orthodox or chareidi communities of Israel. On the issues by which the outside world judges Israel—issues like the peace process, the two-state solution, and surrendering territories—I asked Lipman where he stands and where the leader of his party, Mr. Lapid, stands.
“Listen,” Lipman says, “we have almost 3 million Palestinians living within our midst; something needs to be done. We have to do more to build trust with future Palestinian leaders in order to make progress.” He adds that we can rest assured that Yair Lapid will never agree to any division of Jerusalem. As far as Lapid’s offer to former Kadima head Tzipi Livni to assume the number two position on the Yesh Atid ticket, Lipman says that Lapid knew she could not accept the offer. “She wants to be on her own. She wants to be prime minister someday,” Dov Lipman says. Earlier this week she announced the formation of her own party—The Movement—and it is anticipated that her presence in the election will impact most dramatically on the number of seats Yesh Atid accrues. That does not bode well for Mr. Lipman’s chances to make it into the Knesset.
As for his position and whether he gets a seat in the Knesset, that all depends on how many votes Yesh Atid gets in the January 22 election and where Mr. Lapid decides to place him. And all that is contingent upon the dynamics of building a potential coalition with Likud and what the needs of the party are. It is futile to speculate about those eventualities at this point, because in Israel electoral politics change every day, sometimes more than just once or twice a day. So it is best to just stay tuned and keep your eyes on some of the young new talent like Dov Lipman and some of the other young political stars who are trying to change Israel for the better. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.