Thursday, July 19, 2012

Huge Damage to Israeli Government – Coalition Collapses Over Issue of Fundamentalist Refusal to Serve in the Armed Forces

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Citizens of Israel Want Full Protection – and To Bear None of the Cost

[Editor’s note:  This post is not critical of Jews or Judaism, it is critical religious fundamentalists of all denominations who feel that society should treat them differently and accommodate them because of their extreme religious beliefs.  The Dismal Political Economist is Jewish.]

Earlier this year the state of Israel achieved a real political breakthrough as the controlling Conservative party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a coalition with the leading opposition party.  This gave the government a huge majority in the parliament, and presented Israel with a political unity not seen in recent decades.

A key issue in Israel is whether or not ultra-Orthodox Jews should have to serve in the military.  In Israel, where defense and national security are critical all citizens serve, except ultra Orthodox who for reasons difficult to understand believe that their piety excuses them from service and gives them greater rights than other citizens.  But political pressure is growing to end this practice, with the large majority of Israelis taking the position that everyone should pitch in to serve (and save) the nation. It was hoped the new coalition would solve this problem.

The surprise partnership between the prime minister and the former leader of the opposition had come a day after Mr. Netanyahu called for early elections because of cracks in his original coalition. The two men vowed to leverage the huge new majority to enact legislation ensuring that all citizens share the burden of military and civilian service, in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling invalidating a law that granted draft exemptions to thousands of yeshiva students.

The issue had broad resonance in a society increasingly torn between secular and religious Jews: some 20,000 people took to the Tel Aviv street this month to demand a broader draft and the ouster of politicians who opposed it.

So what happened, as the time came to actually act, Mr. Netanyahu caved to political pressure from ultra religious parties and put forth unacceptable delays in the plans.

But talks broke down over the details. Kadima set a goal of enlisting 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox within four years, with stiff financial penalties for dodgers. Under pressure from religious parties long aligned with his Likud faction, Mr. Netanyahu proffered a more incremental solution, which Mr. Mofaz rejected as a cop-out.

“I was prepared to make compromises but I also had my red lines which I would not cross,” Mr. Mofaz told reporters Tuesday night after Kadima’s Parliament members voted 25-3 to defect from the coalition. “No more lip service; it is time for actions.

This can only be called what it is, an unmitigated disaster for the prospects of peace and stability in the middle east.  A unity government had the opportunity to make great strides towards settling the conflicts in the regions.  No, a peace settlement was not given, but it at least was no longer impossible.  Now the prospects are back to their original position, zero.

It is difficult to reconcile the position of the ultra-orthodox with modern Jewish philosophy and with the vision that Israel would be a free and democratic state embodying the best, not the worst of Jewish tradition and history.  But this is the way with all religious fanatics, with all fundamentalists regardless of their religion.  They believe so strongly in their own righteousness that they will use any means to force their views and positions on everyone else.  The tragedy, they fail to realize that to do so is to not only endanger others, but themselves as well.

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