A Call to Reason

A most important and effective tool for prevailing in virtually every conflict is a logical and carefully calculated approach. One must bear in mind at all times what the underlying reasons for the conflict are about, and clearly identify what the real objectives are.

The current battle over the draft of yeshivah students in Israel touches raw nerves. It is very tempting to respond in the same manner that we are attacked, with passionate, emotional monologues; hurling back invective for invective, and a slur for a slur. But this approach is not only not helpful to our cause, it is extremely counterproductive as it plays precisely into the hands of those who have instigated this battle.

Shooting back is a normal human response. Yet, we must realize that vitriolic diatribes are exactly what the Lapids and Bennetts are seeking. Their intention is that we earn labels as angry and immature people, who cannot defend the indefensible and therefore resort to throwing a tantrum.

In reality, our position is not untenable but unfortunately poorly presented. All one needs to do is peel away some of the layers of demagoguery and apply some cool logic to realize that this debate isn’t really about helping keep Israel safe or even about sharing the burden, the newest buzz words.

One may wonder about the extreme approach taken by the present coalition government in Israel, as it tries to coerce chareidi youth into the army. Since it is obvious that coercion of inductees is not in the best interest of an army that faces existential threats, many will explain this strategy as being a result of deep hatred from the secular society to the chareidim.

But this is not so. Instead, this strategy represents a calculated and — from their perspective — effective way to attain their overriding objective.

As was previously pointed out in these pages, the core of the conflict is the ultimate definition of Jewish society in Israel, “mihu Yehudi;” an attempt to redefine what it means to be a Jew. Instead of establishing a religious identity whose primary obligation is the observance of Torah and mitzvos, secular Israel seeks to create a new prototype, an “Israeli,” a Jew, who identifies himself primarily in national rather than religious terms. The core goal is the formation of a society that is not bound to the norms of Torah, neither in public nor in private.

The most effective tool to achieve this goal is the Israeli army.

The most potent means of providing a country with a strong military and a sense of security is the establishment of a professional army. When Israel instead chose the creation of a “people’s army,” complete with a mandatory draft for men and women, and made service in the army the ticket to success in the work force, their motives were primarily to further this very agenda.

A people’s army is the ultimate melting pot, a masterful experiment in social engineering. That is why Israel is the only western army to draft women. From a military sense, this is ill-advised, but when the goal is for a country’s citizens to shed their communal and personal identities, then women recruits become logical.

The preferred goal of the secular leadership in Israel is to use the army as a means to integrate and assimilate chareidi Jewry into general society.  The growing chareidi population and its expanding influence in many realms is a fearful threat to the character ­ — and power — of secular society in Israel.

The reaction to this perceived threat is ideally to have the chareidim’s allegiance to Torah u’mitzvos traded for an integration — with full benefits — into the present Israeli society. But since the secular power brokers realize that achievement of this  is doubtful, containment is the second-best option. This realization and pursuit of the second-best option is nothing new; it has been in place on some level for the past 65 years.

The steady stream of divisive rhetoric pouring forth in the Knesset and secular media is evidence of their need to drive a wedge between the chareidi sector and the general population in order to minimize the potential influence of Torah Jewry on a society that lacks the very quality that Torah offers: genuine spirituality.

In effect, the politicians behind the current campaign for the draft feel that they are in a win-win situation. If they manage to draft yeshivah students — whether through threats of financial penalties or criminal sanctions — they have accomplished their primary goal. If they only manage to incite a war of words and waves of hatred that will create a permanent, irrevocable chasm between chareidim and the rest of society, they will have at least accomplished their secondary objective, delegitimizing the chareidim and their way of life.

Therefore, it is crucial that Torah Jewry doesn’t fall into such a trap. We must realize that this is a battle that we are fighting with a cunning and calculated opponent. We must be smart and not fall prey to the petty temptations of impulsive self-righteousness.

Therefore, our response must be based on sound reasoning and skilled presentation. Those who represent us must be able to argue in a persuasive fashion. Their choice of words and actions have to be powerful but appropriate. They must be convincing, promoting our lifestyle on its undeniable merits and, perhaps most important and challenging, amicable in approach.

But most important we must realize that the theater of war is not the Knesset, it is the arena of public opinion. It is there that the politicians of today have to reckon their statements and actions. It is imperative that we initiate a comprehensive public relations campaign to communicate our fully defensible positions in a clear and coherent fashion, and one that can resonate in the minds and hearts of the somewhat hostile target audience.

We must and can explain our position that the full-time study of Torah plays a crucial, non-negotiable role not only for the legitimacy of the presence of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, but no less for shaping the character of the society of a Jewish state. The majority of Israelis appreciate the importance of religious values and wish to maintain the Jewish character of its society. Furthermore, people of influence, even in the highest echelons of the Israeli government can be persuaded that the demonization of the chareidim is intrinsically harmful to the best interests of the state, not only in terms of its spiritual well-being. This demonization crosses borders and invites a reaction most detrimental to the state. The risk of losing the substantial chutz laAretz chareidi monetary investment in Israel, amounting to billions of dollars, cannot be ignored.

It is not an illusion that such a campaign can successfully stop the process of demonizing the chareidim that the present political leadership and media initiated. This will press the government to consider the needs of the chareidi public.

Instead of being in the defensive mode, we must be proactive and live up to the challenges of our day. With siyatta diShmaya, with a clear vision of our goal, we will succeed.