Scene II of a gripping and extraordinarily relevant drama played itself out last week in Israel. The first scene took place during the election campaign and the subsequent negotiations that concluded with the forming of the present coalition.
Last week’s scene — which is still ongoing — was the announcement of the Perry Committee, and the political shenanigans that emerged.
Two of the key players in this most recent scene have somewhat similar backgrounds.
Yaakov Perry, who leads the committee that carries his name, is a former head of the Shin Bet security service. After his retirement from the Shin Bet, he became the CEO of the wireless giant Cellcom. He then went on to chair the board of directors of Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot before relinquishing this prestigious position to join Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Perry was given the task of chairing a committee on the most sensitive issue of drafting yeshivah bachurim to the army in the hope that his life experience would help him up with a responsible solution.
Another key player is Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who served as head of military intelligence, and later as IDF Chief of Staff. His opposition to the disengagement from Gaza helped him earn the trust of the right-wing political parties.
Both are distinguished men in their sixties, both are respected in their fields. Yet they have taken two very different approaches. As Perry forged ahead with plans to forcibly draft yeshivah bachurim, Yaalon urged a different approach.
“Unfortunately, some people don’t understand the sensitivity of changing the situation after 65 years. It can’t be changed by force or by law, and certainly not by threatening populations, be they Arab or chareidi,” Yaalon declared. “The moment we lash out at a population and threaten to throw people who study Torah into prison, we’ll get exactly the opposite result [of what we want],” he added.
Is Yaalon more sympathetic to chareidim?Not necessarily. But he seems to be more responsible and realistic.
In contrast, Perry, as a loyal foot soldier for the new party he joined, appears determined to toe the line and further Yesh Atid’s political agenda, regardless of the costs and ramifications.
“Change will be accomplished through one law: A draft for everybody,” he said on Tuesday.
They are hardly the only players in this drama, though.
Looming large in the background is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in his zeal to ensure that his brittle coalition survives, has reportedly ordered Yaalon to drop his oppposition to criminal sanctions against bachurim in the Perry recommendations.
In doing so, Netanyahu crossed another red line in a battle against a sector long referred to as his “natural partners.”
Then there is Naftali Bennett, the Jewish Home leader who formed an “iron pact” with Yair Lapid.
“No one wants to see the Military Police invading Bnei Brak and making arrests,” he said, “This will not solve anything. On the other hand, a slow and intelligently implemented process of benefits, coupled with a great deal of love for the chareidim to integrate them into the greater Israeli society, is what is needed.”
Saying one thing and meaning another has long been an integral part of the art of politics. But Bennett has brought this practice to an entirely new level.
Among the questions we have for Mr. Bennett are: Where was your great love for chareidim when you joined Yesh Atid to successfully block the chareidi parties from joining the coalition? If you are concerned about military police brigades invading Bnei Brak, why do you insist on going against the pleas of your own Rabbanim and ignoring your own constituency, religious Zionists? It is not a secret that the most idealistic and devoted units in the army are the Hesder units.
Perhaps one of the most telling aspects of the current ruckus is a poll, commissioned by the Knesset, conducted by the respected Dr. Mina Tzemach of the Midgam polling research center. After years of media hype and political incitement, it is hardly surprising that 67 percent of those asked backed prison sentences for chareidim who refuse army service, while only 28 percent held the opposing view.
What is ironic is that for the first time the public’s anger against the chareidim has spilled over to the religious Zionists, and the previously respected hesder units are now also being subjected to the public’s wrath. According to this poll, 64 percent of the public supported extending the length of army service for students of the hesder yeshivos. Only 29 percent disagreed with this view.
The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from this poll, as well as the tone of the anti-religious incitement, is that this isn’t really about army service.
It is apparent that even respected Israeli politicians like Perry, as well as significant segments of the general population fail to comprehend what the lives of Torah Jewry are really about. They are the products of a secular educational system that taught a wide variety of subjects — except those that pertain to their own heritage. They learned nothing about kiyum hamitzvos or the value of Torah study, and therefore find the gap between their contemporary culture and our hallowed heritage too far to bridge.
Those of us in the Diaspora must clearly affirm our unyielding commitment to Torah Jewry in Israel. We share in their anguish and support them in their struggle, and must seek to assist them in any way possible.
One of the most painful aspects of our exile is when we find ourselves in Galus among our fellow Jews.
Our message to the Lapids, Perrys and Bennetts of the world is a simple one: Throughout the long centuries of our exile, we have repeatedly faced forces — from within and without — who sought to coerce us into changing our Torah-based lifestyle.
They failed, and ultimately so will you. If you don’t come to your senses soon, all that you will accomplish is engaging in a painful and wholly avoidable battle between brothers around the world that we firmly believe — based on our history — you can’t and won’t win.