Wednesday, March 26

The Coupling of the Opposition and Ultra-Orthodox in Israel

A strange phenomenon, if not a paradox has occurred in Israeli politics. It is the coupling of the ultra-Orthodox parties with the left of center Labor Party. In my previous article, I mentioned the channeling of funds from ultra-Orthodox projects to Bayit Hayehudi settlement projects in the occupied West Bank. This has created a situation where the Shas and Torah Judaism Parties are becoming bedfellows of Labor.

The main reason for this new found cooperation is that Labor is not making an issue of conscription of the Haredim into the IDF. As I said, six of one (Zionist right wing religious Bayit Hayehudi Party) and half a dozen of the other (the ultra-Orthodox non-Zionist Parties) in the coalition is not in Israel's interests. The latter is preferable, as they have no problem with a two-state solution when it comes to peace with the Palestinians, as long as the government gives them money for their partisan projects.

The compulsory ballot is another trick in hypocrisy and stealth. It is also a populist tactic. Conscripting the ultra-Orthodox males would cost Israel an astronomical amount of money as the IDF would have to establish units that correspond to their lifestyle. This is in Kashrut, Torah study and rituals. In other words, the IDF would have to bend to the religious customs of the ultra-Orthodox conscripts rather than the other way round as in the case of secular and modern Orthodox conscripts. The government suspended financing the ultra-Orthodox projects but the Bennett Bayit Heyudi are getting the finances from the government for their own occupation projects such as settlement expansion, yeshivot, headed by extremist right wing racist rabbis as well as shortened army service (1 year and 5 months for those in Yeshivot Hesder) for the right wing, Zionist orthodox conscripts. Normal length of service for 18 year old males is 3 years. So where is the equality of burden in serving in the IDF? The right wing religious Zionists in the settlements beyond he green line have never had it so good. The priorities of the present government are financing further illegal settlement while decreasing financial aid to ultra-Orthodox projects.

The settlements in the West Bank are getting increased financial aid from the government. This makes the two-state solution more complicated to achieve.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that people on both sides of the conflict have an increased feeling of frustration. The negotiating teams on both sides are getting nowhere. The antics on both sides are to please John Kerry without delivering the goods, each side for their own partisan reasons which do not coincide. The two-state solution is dying and before long it will enter the critical phase of rigor mortis which is the point of no return.

While the acrobatics of peace negotiations proceeds, Bibi Netanyahu harps on about Iran in order to digress from the real problems that need to be addressed. The main problems are Israel's security and the occupation. The latter is weakening Israel's stand in the world as well as its credibility and human rights record. While Israel is viewed as a colonialist power in the West Bank by its actions of building new settlements unabated, the threat to Israel's democracy will remain. Democracy within the green line exists while in the occupied territories it does not. The apartheid state similarity in the territories just cannot be concealed anymore. World opinion always sides with the victim (Palestinians) and not with the victor (Israel). While Israel remains an occupying power, it will always be under severe criticism because the settlers get all the privileges while the conquered get nothing. This is the differentiation which strengthens the slogan of Israel being an apartheid state.

It appears, from Haaretz reports, that the government is giving a large budget to the West Bank settler enterprise. This issue has been raised in the Knesset by MK Stav Shaffir of the Labor Party. This confirms suspicions that the government does not intend to freeze settlements in occupied territories. It also gives another message of "pseudo-sharing "of the national burden of conscription into the IDF. In reality, the illegal settlers in the territories will be getting increasing government aid. When ex-Shin Bet chief lambasts Netanyahu's Likud as "shallow",we should take him seriously.

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