The difference between campaigning for office and holding office is, in one word, responsibility. A campaigner can promise voters the world — free education, cheap housing, higher take-home pay — but a legislator, and even more so a government minister, has to take reality into account. He understands that there is a budget to balance and that every freebie must be paid for by either higher taxes or reduced government expenditures.
This is especially significant when it comes to sensitive issues that threaten to divide a society, such as, in Israel, the right of full-time yeshivah students to continue to defer their military service. But Yair Lapid, the media star-turned-politician who won 19 seats by inciting against chareidim under the rubric of “equal service for all,” is having difficulty making the switch from campaigner to responsible government leader.
He and members of his Yesh Atid party are rejecting any attempts to address the issue with sensitivity, including a plan by Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, a former IDF chief of staff who certainly understands the needs of the army. They won’t be content until they ram through a draconian plan that, chalilah, shakes Israeli society to the core, so that they can return to their voters and say, “See? We delivered!”
In his maiden speech to the Knesset Monday, Lapid addressed concerns that his “take no prisoners” attitude will lead to civil war, saying that “10 percent of the population [the chareidim] can’t threaten a civil war against 90%.” He magnanimously offered to allow the minority’s voice to be heard on the question of the centrality of Torah study to the Jewish people, but warned that “it must obey the decision [of the majority] even if it goes against all that is holy in its eyes.”
Lapid’s argument is flawed on several counts. To begin with, his notion that he represents the majority, because his party drew 22 percent of the vote, is patently absurd. The chareidi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, won a combined 18 seats, for 21 percent of the vote!
Second, even if he had 90 percent support for his positions, democracy isn’t about the majority using its clout to destroy the minority and its values. Great democracies, like the United States, are about respecting the rights of even 10 percent of the population, not driving them into a corner and certainly not sparking a civil war.
Thirdly, as UTJ MK Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses noted in his response to Lapid, if there is a problem of the minority dictating to the majority, it is in the realm of funding for education. As Rabbi Moses, who is deputy education minister, noted, the overall budget for education is close to NIS 60 billion. Only 5 percent of that goes to chareidi children, who make up 32 percent of the kindergarten thru sixth graders and 26 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders. Something is terribly wrong when a third of the students receive only a tenth of the funding.
Lapid is obsessed with education, specifically imposing the core curriculum on chareidi schools. He’s right that education is the key to changing society and improving the economy, but he’s aiming his arrows at the wrong target. Instead of tinkering with chareidi education, which is succeeding in equipping children to live as Torah Jews in a world that poses unprecedented moral challenges, he should be looking at the core values that aren’t being taught in secular schools.
As Rabbi Moses pointed out in his Knesset address Monday, the cost to society of secular education is astronomical. Some 30,000 criminal files are opened against Israeli youths; 60,000 youths have used drugs; 200,000 have gotten drunk; 2,000 high school teachers have been beaten by their students. These are the tragic results of an educational system that doesn’t teach core Jewish values.
And it is the chareidi taxpayer who is forced to foot the bill for this dereliction of duty on the part of the secular education system, paying for extra police, psychologists, drug counselors, shelters, medical personnel and so on.
The mark of a healthy society is the ability of its different segments to understand and respect one another’s needs. While there is room to argue about the chareidi community’s budgetary needs in the realm of housing or welfare, the right of yeshivah students to learn Torah is inviolable.
Yair Lapid, in particular, should not have difficulty understanding this. As Rabbi Moses pointed out, Lapid descended from a distinguished, righteous family which can be traced to one of the great Rabbanim of earlier generations.
With such distinguished roots, there is no doubt that Lapid is capable of understanding the centrality of Torah study to the survival of Am Yisrael and the importance of becoming a leader who focuses on what unites us, rather than a campaigner who seeks to deepen the rift for political gain.