Israel Must Stop Riding The Haredi Tiger
Opinion: The ultra-Orthodox community, which flooded the streets of Jerusalem twice on Sunday, is telling that they have no interest in-laws or coronavirus regulations.
The illicit opening of Haredi schools while the rest of the country’s children are stuck at home was excused as the unique needs of a unique community.
Burning a public bus in Bnei Brak during last week’s riots and putting the lives of police officers and others at risk was blamed on a fringe minority.
Thousands of Haredi men attend the Jerusalem funeral for a rabbi in Sunday, in violation of lockdown restrictions.
But what occurred on Sunday, with two consecutive funerals for two prominent rabbis in Jerusalem is impossible to wave away.
Thousands of mourners flooded the streets of the capital, brazenly flouting all health regulations. It sent a clear message: “We have no interest in your laws or your health. We are over the coronavirus. It is your problem alone.”
While the economy is staggering and hospital emergency rooms cannot keep up as ambulances deliver more and more COVID-19 patients, the ultra-Orthodox community insists on dragging us all further into the abyss.
The coalition government – including its Haredi members – has said that the laws of the land apply to all Israeli citizens. So the throngs that packed the streets of Jerusalem effectively declared a mutiny, citing their own rigid principles and ideology.
The country’s leaders have over the years refused to create an acceptable social pact with the Haredi population.
Political coalition considerations always came first, at the cost of a long-term contract of coexistence and mutual respect, with acceptable behavior being displayed by both the ultra-Orthodox and secular communities.
And because the interests of the Haredi population remained different to the rest of the country, the community became increasingly isolated – a preferred strategy that negates the need to consider of other population groups and their needs.
It is not just Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has kowtowed to their demands. For decades leaders on the right and the left have been willing to pay off the ultra-Orthodox parties in hard currency.
But yielding to their every demand has caused untold harm to the country and its society – and the Haredi communities themselves, as many among the ultra-Orthodox would attest.
The coronavirus pandemic has shed a harsh light on the price we are paying for this dysfunctional relationship and it will not be easily ignored.
Israel has been riding the back of the Haredi tiger for far too long. Many have tried to tame it with sane, moderate policies such as bespoke military service for Haredi men, gender separation in universities and workplaces and more.
No one intends to interfere with the ultra-Orthodox way of life, just open the door for those who do want to join the productive workforce to improve their lot and to offer some assimilation into Israeli society.
Yet the ineptitude of the current government in the face of Haredi behavior teaches us a dangerous lesson. Without intervention, ultra-Orthodox power knows no bounds – irreparably damaging the rule of law, causing hundreds unnecessary deaths from COVID-19 and fostering a growing hatred between swathes of Israeli society.
Ironically, the Haredi politicians and their communities may bring about Netanyahu’s political demise in the March 23 elections.
The anarchy seen in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem might spread to other parts of the country, reversing all efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
And if such behavior continues, the elections might be taking place amid surging contagion rates that highlight the government’s failure to handle the pandemic.
The advantages Netanyahu gained by securing enough vaccines for the entire population will be lost if he keeps capitulating to Haredi demands, making him the target of public outrage, costing him votes from within his own camp and winning support for left-wing populist candidates.
The government has to do its job. The ministers who have been calling for more authority over state institutions in order to enact their policies must now act responsibly and translate their words into deeds.