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Is ‘Yesh Atid’ the Answer to our Prayers?

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

I find myself in a precarious situation of having to walk-back on a comment from last week. Whenever a politician walks back on his/her remarks, utterances, statements, I cringe at their duplicity. And yet, here I am doing the same thing.

Having originally written that, under no circumstances, would I be voting in the March 23 election and that an abstention was also a vote of no confidence in the current government, I have changed my mind. By not voting I would be helping by default the Haredi vote. Something I could not contemplate.

I decided and declared on these pages that I would vote for a right-wing secular party, as the party leader had the balls to speak out and stand against the rising tide of Haredi militancy.

However, and this is the walk-back, on prolonged and meaningful reflection, I have realized that as much as I want to curb the rise of Haredi militancy, other equally pressing issues need to be addressed. And with great respect to the ‘other party’, I don’t see these other issues as part of their broad agenda. I also feel more comfortable in my natural ‘home’, with a strong, dedicated center party.

In other words, I don’t wish to decide who to vote for based on a single issue, even though that single issue – curbing the Haredim militancy – is currently my driver. For me, it’s a paramount issue.

As a side issue, although certainly relevant, it was interesting to note that Moshe Gafni will replace Yaakov Litzman as leader of the United Torah Judaism, as part of the power-sharing deal between the two. It has always struck me that Gafni is by far the more militant of the two. This may well say something about the fear the Haredim have of a power switch away from their longtime benefactor.

So, as of now, my vote will be for Yesh Atid: (The following is taken from the party’s website “Yesh Atid seeks to represent what it considers the center of Israeli society: the secular middle class. It focuses primarily on civic, socio-economic, and governance issues, including government reform and ending military draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox.”)

The emancipation of the Haredi community in Israel and its integration into the democratic mainstream of society is essential. The Haredi community is entailed to our admiration but, the community, in turn, needs to respect the wishes of the broader Israeli society. Citizenship encompasses duties and obligations to the State. This is not a one-way-street of taking only. Giving back in full measure is also a requirement.

All citizens of Israel are equal but that equality comes at a price, and that price is the contribution and commitment to the national wellbeing. And while some would argue that prayer and study contribute to Israel’s spiritual wellbeing, there is a need for the Haredi community to shoulder its share in the workplace, military/national service, within the extensive and multifaceted Israeli democratic society.

Focus on the emancipation of the Haredi community in Israel is not a single issue. Israel faces a raft of concerns, all clamoring for attention and resolution. First and foremost is of course COVID19, but we must not let ourselves be blinked by the pandemic alone. Hand-in-hand with fighting the coronavirus, it is essential to move Israel forward by tackling and resolving a broad range of issues that have been neglected in recent years either due to pressure from the Haredi community and other interest groups or by the lethargic attitude of the government.

It is, therefore, time for a radical change, time to invoke the spirit of Menachem Begin circa 1977.

I am currently reading Andrew Robert’s 2018 published, 1,000 pages biography of Winston Churchill. Almost every page throws-up a Churchillian quote or remark of substance and depth. For example, Churchill’s remarks during a speech on September 24, 1921, in Dundee, Scotland, 100 years on, have much meaning for us in Israel. When asked about the path of reconciliation between both communities and countries, Churchill responded “for composing differences, for assisting each other, for leaving alone all quarrels and co-operating in the rebuilding as quickly as possible of the threatened prosperity of the country. Classes and nations must help each other.” Profound!

Although Israel today, may not be broken in the sense that Great Britain was in 1921 following what was then termed ‘The Great War’, Israel needs a new approach. COVID19 and the years of Netanyahu’s cult-following politics have left an indelible stain on the country. That stain needs to be erased as quickly as possible.

Many of us, myself certainly included, paint all Haredi communities with the same tar-brush. And while this is wrong, it is also understandable. Just a look at the tens of thousands of Haredim in Jerusalem the other night, packed together, many without masks, attending two funerals. With the blatant disregard for themselves, their community, and the country in general, it is no wonder that the whole Haredi community is branded selfish, self-centered, detracted from reality. And, making things worse, if that was possible, the audacity, the unashamed attitude of attendees will regretfully lead in the coming weeks to more funerals of the attendees, their families, their communities, and the wider general public. Interestingly, even Miki Zohar was moved to past comment on their collective ill behavior.

Is it any wonder that the Haredi community as a whole is held in such contempt?

On May 5, 2020, I published a blog entitled ‘’Who Am I, Where Do I Stand?’’

In the opening paragraphs, I described myself thus: “I often find myself under attack, not physically thank goodness, because I am unable or unwilling to label myself left, center or right, and by default identify with a particular camp or creed. ‘’

‘’Like many, maybe more than we know or people care to admit to, I have different stances on a range of issues. I don’t want to be identified by a single, all-encompassing label.’’

‘’I consider myself a conservative/nationalist. Indeed, to borrow a line from the musical Evita, on some issues I stand “Slightly to the right of Attila the Hun”’’.

‘’I am proud of my center-right conservative outlook. I am equally proud of being called a liberal-hawk. And I am proud of being labeled inconsistent, inconsequential, and irrelevant. I encompass a rainbow of views, of feelings, of dreams, and aspirations for Israel.’’

‘’It’s no secret that I rage at the disappointment of those that we elect to govern us. Of course, no one is to blame but us.’’

To return to Churchill for a moment. Although a lifelong Conservative who at one point crossed the Floor of the House (of Commons) to join the Liberals, Churchill was a leading advocate of a strong center-based collation of parties to govern Great Britain.

I am convinced that here in Israel we need a strong, dedicated central coalition to move the country forward. The cry “anyone but Bibi” must be put aside, just as the Texas-size egos of party leaders must be banished. There has to be a single goal, a united, concentrated voice that demands, ‘what is best for the country’. All else is just waste, blocking the sight of the goalmouth.

To this end, I was disappointed to note that Moshe Ya’alon’s departure from the March election. His decision shows his true character and his dedication to the cause that is Israel. With all that is happening in Israel, I would have preferred to see him stay within the Yesh Atid framework. Not being a fly-on-the-wall, it is not possible to know his reasons for wishing to run alone. His presence will be sorely missed not only for his in-depth military/defense knowledge but as a straight-talking, no-nonsense individual.

We, the people of Israel who want to continue to live in a thriving, flourishing modern democratic society, where respect is given to all ethnic communities, where the government is both perceived and seen to be clean and honest have a moral obligation to vote come March 23. It is our civic duty. Likewise, we have to ensure that our family, friends, neighbors vote.

I have heard several commentators discuss the importance of the national turnout on March 23. The on-going coronavirus and apathy of voters, the fourth election in two years, could ensure record low numbers. And we know that traditionally, the Haredim turnout in full as instructed by their rabbis. I assume the same is the case of the ultra-rightwing Zionist religious parties.

Every general election is important. Somehow I feel that this time around, the very existence of a democratic Israel is at stake and that unless we vote unless we make our wishes known via the ballot box, Israel as a pluralistic, multicultural, and democratic state will slowly sink and be replaced with an authoritarian regime dominated by rabbis, where free-thought and ideas are banned. Far-fetched, maybe, but the writing is on the wall for all to see, if we have eyes.


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