Photo Credit: Israel Beiteino Spokesperson
MK Avigdor Liberman at a press conference, May 28, 2019

{Originally posted to the JNS website}

The anti-religious stampede is in full force. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman blew the barn doors open and the hatred is bursting through. But let us not be mistaken. What presently appears to be a preoccupation with the secular-religious rift and the supposed anxieties over the rise of a state ruled by Jewish law (halachah) is merely another leftist strategy to conceal the fundamental political differences between the two blocs and to blur the positions on matters of state.

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The left has already tried everything it can to retake the government. It has invested resources in anti-Netanyahu propaganda, rallied people for “social” protests, and said it is not leftist at all but “centrist” (Blue and White). It has tried everything and failed. The public has seen this and has voted right time and again.

Yet here we are again; the left has come up with another reason for people to be afraid, a new existential threat. Just yesterday we were told to tremble in fear over the “end of democracy,” the “fall of the rule of law” and the “destruction of the judicial system,” and today we are already being told to fear the halachic state.

The facts, however, don’t support that. Members of Blue and White, the Labor party and even Meretz have no problem sitting in the same government with the ultra-Orthodox parties. In fact, Blue and White’s Moshe Ya’alon and Benny Gantz have already begun working towards it. The left has always done this, eagerly. When such partnerships didn’t materialize it was because of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rejectionism (for example, Tzipi Livni’s efforts to form a government after Ehud Olmert’s resignation in 2008) and not because the left chose to exclude them from the coalition or refused to accept their various demands in exchange for joining.

Such was the case with Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor government and Shas; Ehud Barak’s government with Shas; and Olmert’s Kadima government. The deal on the table was obvious: The haredim would support these governments’ dovish policies, and the left in return would acquiesce to all their demands on religious, social and state-related matters. Case in point, it was the Olmert and Labor government, when Professor Yuli Tamir was education minister, that decided to annul core studies in the haredi sector and ratified the so-called Nahari law, which allowed the government to fund recognized but unofficial schools.

When all this was happening, however, the press was not inundating us with bombastic headlines and threats of a “halachic state.” Quite the opposite: there was a general appreciation of Shas for its contributions and flexibility on diplomatic matters.

Even the return of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri to the political arena following his time in prison was treated by the media with kid gloves, with the view that Shas could again be used to tip the political scale in favor of the left. Prior to the 2013 general election, then-President Shimon Peres said, “For the peace process to move forward, Shas really needs to be a part of the coalition.”

But the current rhetoric of fear with regard to a halachic state isn’t a new phenomenon on the left. It is essentially another evolution of anti-religious hatred, and this time, too, the anti-religious discourse is being used to camouflage the diplomatic dispute. This is a familiar tactic: Every recent left-wing government rose to power on the back of some civic-social wave or another, but in actuality, they focused on the Palestinian issue once in office.

We need to evoke the Gaza withdrawal period of 2005 to understand the hypocrisy. The Shinui party, which Lieberman is now poorly impersonating, won no less than 15 mandates in the 2003 election and joined second Ariel Sharon government with the aim of excluding the haredi parties. In actuality, the Sharon government leaned on Shinui’s mandates not to foster an “anti-religious” revolution but, as usual, to push a diplomatic process that never would have occurred under a different constellation of parties: the Gaza disengagement.

Furthermore, even during the height of its political power Shinui agreed to transfer NIS 290 million ($81 million) to the haredi parties, in exchange for NIS 700 million ($190 million) for its own causes. Therefore let us make no mistake: Lieberman and the left won’t change a thing when it comes to religion and state. The only thing we’ll get is another “balance-shifting” party that will join the left to bring us another disengagement.

(Dr. Limor Samimian-Darash is a senior lecturer at the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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