A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Israeli Politics
By Kevin Filan
Israeli Arabs |
| Nat. Religious Party | Shas
While Hitler failed at his "thousand-year Reich," he succeeded in three of his objectives: the Autobahn, the Volkswagen, and the eradication of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. By some estimates, as many as 90% of the Chasidic Jews of Poland were exterminated during World War II. Despite their conviction that only the Moshiach could establish a new Zion, many of the survivors relocated to Israel after 1948. Appalled as they might be by Israel's secular rulers and their adherence to "goyische" ideologies like socialism, they had no other place to go. For their part, Israel's rulers treated the ultra-Orthodox survivors (also known as Haredim) with respect, offering generous welfare programs and military exemptions to full-time Yeshiva students. They expected that these religious traditionalists, with their 18th century garb and archaic Yiddish, would go the way of the dinosaur within a generation or two. Fifty years later, the ranks of the Haredim have only grown. Their propensity for large families, combined with active outreach efforts on the part of the Lubavitcher movement, have made them a force to be reckoned with in Israeli politics … and have exacerbated tensions between them and the still-secular establishment.
So long as they are studying in a Yeshiva, Haredi men are exempt from military service. Many Haredi men have become "perpetual students." Since they are unable to work without becoming subject to the draft, they and their families live in poverty, supported by the state's welfare system. This has led to considerable bitterness among many secular Israelis, who claim "We fight for them… and they pray for us." It is difficult to imagine how the Israeli Defense Forces would be able to incorporate the Haredim, whose religious beliefs require rigid dietary laws and sexual segregation. A few politicians have proposed mandatory national service for the Haredim; when Ehud Barak suggested this in 1999, the Haredim rallied behind Ariel Sharon. Still, many Haredim have come to realize that this exemption from the IDF is hurting the Haredim more than anyone else in Israel.
The Haredim would also like to see greater observance among Israeli Jew. Stone-throwing Haredim have sought to close down movie theaters which stayed open during the Sabbath, while drivers passing through Orthodox neighborhoods after sundown on Friday have not infrequently found their cars struck with eggs, rocks or paint. The Haredim have also taken a particular interest in the question of "Who is a Jew." Many of the Soviet refugees who have recently come to Israel may be Jewish by Israeli law, but they would not be considered Jewish by Halachic law: more than a few are practicing Christians. Looking with horror at their Christmas trees and their ham dinners, the Haredim have begun pressing for more rigid conversion requirements and a stricter "Law of Return." This has not sat well with the secular establishment, who have accused them of working toward a "Theocratic Dictatorship."
While the Haredim may appear to be a large black-clad monolithic bloc, there are considerable divisions within the various groups. Some have come to accept Zionism; a few remain actively hostile to the Jewish state, preferring to remain within their enclaves and speaking Yiddish instead of Hebrew. As with most groups in Israel, there is no shortage of infighting and squabbling among the Haredim. Still, no Israeli politician can afford to ignore them entirely. Haredi communities frequently revolve around a Rebbe whose word is law; this can translate into a large bloc voting for or against a candidate.