By Larry Gordon
Every week, Jews around the world, particularly in Israel and especially here in New York where there is a large Jewish population, react to the legislative changes and rhetoric spilling out of elected officials in Jerusalem as if whatever they say is etched in stone.
It is a new day in Israel, and the country, though still isolated and maligned around the world, is pushing forward and making remarkable progress despite the diversity within and all the external critics who claim to know what is best for her.
Just this week, Bayit HaYehudi leader Naftali Bennett said that the idea of a Palestinian state was done, finished, and over. He observed in an address to a group in Israel that there are almost 400,000 Jews living beyond what the world refers to as the Green Line, and another 250,000 residing in eastern Jerusalem. With those facts on the ground, how can anyone who considers himself a levelheaded thinker suggest that another sovereign state can be plopped down right on top of these people’s heads or perhaps under their feet?
In response to Bennett, who is a minister in the current government, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Bennett does not speak for the government on this issue, and it is the PM’s position to be supportive of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians which will, at some stage, result in the establishment of a new Arab state somewhere within the current borders of Israel.
Everyone involved in this issue has been flip-flopping on it now for over two decades. There is a divide in the democratic Israeli government as well as an even greater schism between the Israeli and Palestinian positions. And it seems that as time goes by the differences become more pronounced and nearly impossible to bridge. The point is that it is safe and perhaps even smart for Mr. Netanyahu to advocate for the creation of a new Arab state in theory, because in practice any realist will realize that the circumstances simply do not exist for it to happen.
Taking that into consideration, it becomes additionally clear that there is no downside to at least saying that you are in favor of a two-state solution. And that has to be Bibi’s thinking. Support two states because as each day passes it becomes more and more unlikely, if not impossible.
Which leads me to wonder about another issue that is enjoying a lot of buoyancy these days. And that is the matter of the changes in the law in Israel that will eventually mandate that yeshiva boys or men perform some sort of national service or, if they prefer, join the IDF in some capacity as a way of sharing the burden of service and building the State of Israel.
The Right-leaning yeshiva world, led by some formidable personalities, has couched this debate and the proposed changes in terms of the center’s and Left’s determination to downgrade if not trample over the Torah and the so-called Torah lifestyle in Eretz Yisrael. While Israel certainly has its share of those who simply and unfortunately do not understand the attachment between modern Jewry and Torah, to characterize them as people opposed to Torah or desirous of its destruction in some way is just a colossal distortion of reality.
The nature and dynamic of these kinds of debates force both sides to take extreme and maximalist positions so as to draw the attention of the media and rally the troops in their camps. To that end, when it comes to the two-state solution deal, we have PA President Abbas demanding a halt to all settlement-building, which includes building in half of Israel’s declared capital city—in eastern Jerusalem. At the other end, there is MK Bennett saying that the idea of a two-state solution is past its time and is now unworkable and irrelevant.
In the chareidi-national service debate, one side is saying that the IDF needs the chareidim and that they have to share the burden. The other side is screaming and protesting about kavod HaTorah and the lack thereof and the chiloni objective to destroy Torah and the Torah lifestyle in Israel.
Every levelheaded person knows and understands that no yeshiva student will be dragged out of the houses of study, forced into uniform, and stationed at the front lines. Nevertheless, that is the imagery being created by some.
It has been stated here on several occasions when we addressed this compelling issue that considering that the new Perry Law is not slated to be fully instituted until 2017, there will most likely be many changes made to the law between now and then. It is even more likely that over the next few years there will be new elections and a new government will be formed that will include the chareidi parties in the Knesset. You can rest assured that if that scenario comes to fruition, the first item of legislative business will be the scrubbing of the Perry Law.
Of course there is a great deal at stake here for everyone involved. A lot of it is about ideology, but make no mistake, it is also to a great extent about large sums of money that those in power in Israel—or in any country, for that matter—get to control.
The additionally fascinating dynamic here is the tug-of-war taking place over a lifestyle that has had a protected status since the founding of the state. That population sees its lifestyle being shaken up and threatened to its very core.
The disturbing news here is that it seems that in order to rally their constituencies, each segment of the population needs their bad guys to attack. After all, how do you communicate the potential severity of a matter to a large population base unless you simplify your message by saying, “Here, take a look, this is the bad guy.”
Playing that role for the Right are Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and, in case that is too difficult to grasp, MK Dov Lipman, a graduate of an American chareidi yeshiva, a resident of the Orthodox area of Bet Shemesh, and a man who dresses in black suits and a big velvet yarmulke. He is targeted and identified as the worst villain because, they say, he is the enemy from within. The truth, though, is the exact opposite. Lipman wants to bring psychological health and economic balance to these chareidi communities so they can carry on in a productive and successful manner in the years ahead.
The Left’s villains are the folks in the Shas party and United Torah Judaism, or for that matter anyone who dresses or looks like them. It’s a bad situation that just might get much worse before it gets better. The awful part is that the sensational rhetoric really has no resemblance to the reality, and both sides know that.
In the meantime, Jews the world over are upset that such internal dissension has to be showcased and on display, as if things were not difficult enough. The on-again, off-again peace process that has been dragging along for 20 years has a method to its brand of madness. Israel, and indeed the worldwide Jewish community, cannot afford to have issues like sharing the burden, education in chareidi schools, and peace and unity amongst us become a similar type of never-ending process. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.