If you read the headlines, the biggest issue in Israel isn’t Iran’s nuclear program or Syria’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood; it’s how to draft Haredim, widely referred to as Ultra-Orthodox Jews, into the army.
Until recently, the Israeli left was feverishly complaining about the surplus of Religious Nationalist Jews in the army and the threat of religious fanaticism. Now it’s back to complaining that there aren’t enough Ultra-Orthodox religious fanatics in the army, after spending last year complaining that the ones in the army were too fanatical and the ones on buses were even worse.
Religious Nationalists in the army are a problem because many of them are patriots and not too enthusiastic about giving up land to terrorists. The Ultra-Orthodox don’t care about the country or how much land it has, which makes them ideal recruits from the left’s point of view. Unfortunately, they don’t actually want to join the army.
The left’s ideal recruit doesn’t care about the country and mechanically follows orders to ethnically cleanse Jewish towns and villages. But, unfortunately, that ideal recruit would rather be playing guitar in Tel Aviv or studying the Talmud in Jerusalem than patrolling the frontier and fighting terrorists. The leftist sons and daughters of the idle rich want to protest at checkpoints in between parties, not serve at them, and, while Haredim will mechanically follow orders, those orders won’t come from the military, its political generals or an activist Supreme Court.
No one really wants Haredim in the military all that much, but it’s fashionable to suggest that they aren’t pulling their weight. Which indeed they aren’t; but neither is much of the country.
The left rants about the money going to Haredi children out of one side of its mouth, while the other side screams that the children of African migrant workers should be allowed to remain in the country and given full benefits. Leftist tabloids act disgusted when Haredim send out children in yellow stars to protest but have no similar compunction about using Holocaust analogies and iconography when protesting against the deportation of migrant workers.
And let’s not forget the Muslim sector. Israeli Arabs form 20 percent of the country, but consume 52 percent of its social benefits. It would be illegal to call them parasites, the way that Haredim are often called parasites. An election commercial showing a mob of Muslims clinging to the legs of an Israeli voter pleading for more money would result in criminal charges. But a similar commercial featuring Haredim was filmed and broadcast by a prominent leftist third party, the son of whose scion is now also aspiring to major third party status on the same program of social justice and Haredi-bashing.
But so long as Haredim don’t serve, they are a useful political weapon in a country where everyone is justly convinced that they are being screwed over by powerful interests. Men in black hats and beards are alien enough to be a useful target, and their isolation has allowed them fill the traditional role of the Jew in exile as a scapegoat for national frustrations.
The Haredim are expected to stay in their ghettos, for the same reason that Jews were kept there. The ghettos create a permanent scapegoat while the few ways out require assimilation. And that system suits both those running the ghettos and the state. It’s the middle ground of change that would allow Haredim to participate in public life without losing who they are that both sides fear and restrict.
The Israeli left has never known any political mechanism besides “divide-and-conquer” politics and it set up the very divisions that it agitates against, enshrining Arab and Haredi political separatism from the start, assigning different levels of benefits for different immigrant groups and then stirring up social protests against the monopolies that its crony capitalism put into place.
The left agitates against Haredi benefits, but it set up a system where the Haredim would do nothing but vote in exchange for benefits, in the same way that it set up a similar system for the Arab sector. It complains about oligarchs, when the left is structured as an oligarchy funded and manned by the well-connected and the wealthy. It complains about settlements, when it derives most of its foreign funding on a pledge to fight them. If the so-called settlements went away, a lot of the professional left would suddenly have to find real jobs.