There have been two interesting developments in the battle of religion versus secular society in Israel. One is of monumental importance, the other is minor. First the minor story.
You may have heard about the Tel Aviv city council’s decision to begin limited public transportation on Shabbat. As they say in New York, fuhgeddaboudit. It’s not going to happen because the municipality, as it is fully aware, has no power to authorize it. Only the national government can do it and it won’t. From Haaretz:
In all probability, the decision will reach the desk of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who will not authorize the use of public buses on Shabbat; possibly Katz will refer the matter to the cabinet. The disposition of the Netanyahu on the government on the issue is not open to doubt − the buses are likely to remain in their garages.
Personally, I like the atmosphere in Tel Aviv on Shabbat. It’s quieter than most days. Kind of like Sunday in Manhattan.
But that doesn’t mean that the buses shouldn’t run. Why should private cars be the only means for people to get to the beach or places of entertainment. Plenty of people would dump their cars if they could get to the clubs and beaches some other way. Drunk driving would be reduced. Traffic would be calmer.
Religious parties in the coalition will never let this happen. A usual, they don’t care to see the bigger picture.
What the religious parties have less control over is the shocking, but totally fair ruling of the Supreme Court overturning the Tal Law.
Ten years ago this law went into effect in order to create an “arrangement” whereby Haredi men would be offered a path to employment via voluntary military enlistment or to permanent, life-long study via a non-expiring exemption. It’s goal was to recruit thousands of Haredim to serve in special units that met their religious needs. Very few joined up.
The law was set to expire, but the government had pledged to renew it, even in the face of growing opposition, including that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Now the high court, which previously gave the law a chance to work, has ordered abandonment of the program. This will have consequences for the current coalition:
In theory, the ruling should require the state to draft around 62,000 yeshiva students and ultra-Orthodox youths this August, on top of 7,000 yeshiva students who serve according to the Tal Law’s stipulations. But a more likely scenario is that the ruling will force the Knesset to recraft the law, or the Defense Ministry will offer a new deal to Haredi men. In any case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition may be rocked by the ruling.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is not only a case of the secular versus the religious (though it is that, too). In fact, it’s also about the legitimacy of the state. Haredim have been given the opportunity to perform national service – even in their own communities – and they have refused this, as well. They don’t want to serve the Zionist government in any way. They prefer just to take its money.
Many in the Likud Party supported the Court’s ruling:
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said the decision was morally correct. “It would have been preferable if the political establishment had reached the decision. Due to the consecutive failure of Israeli governments to guarantee mutual responsibility within Israeli society it was the High Court’s duty to stand firm and guard social consolidation, especially in such fateful times,” said Hotovely.
Hotovely is a religious woman and a hard-liner on security and settlements.
Here is an opportunity for the Israeli government to establish one clear and equal standard for all citizens, regardless of their “religious” inclinations. Clearly Haredi opposition is not rooted in halakhic (Jewish legal) observance, but in its lack of willingness to accept and support the Jewish state.
I’m no prophet, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet there will be new elections very, very soon.