Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Israeli Hypocrisy?

There has been a flurry of news stories, editorials, and op-eds about the recent threat by the Israeli government to once again cut funding to Charedim. The issue here is stipends for Avreichim.

That has resulted in the usual and predictable surges of outrage by Charedi leaders and politicians accusing the government of discriminating against them.

The government backed off. That brought about criticism by secular pundits against the government.

Why did they back off? It’s called ‘politics as usual’ in Israel. The ruling powers - no matter which side of the political aisle they are on - must cater to the religious parties. Their presence in the coalition is what keeps the ruling party in power. If the Charedi parties bolt – which they always threaten to do if they do not get their way, the government falls and new elections are held.

This is why Charedi Yeshivos are given their full allotment of funds despite the fact that they do not always technically qualify. That - for example - is the case in funding schools that do not adhere to the core curriculum funding requirements. The government caves and funds them anyway for political reasons.

This type of thing always happens.

But this time there has been a backlash. University students apparently do not get the same stipend that Yeshiva students get. Even though the law is not written specifically for Charedim it is structured so that the vast majority of those who benefit from it are Charedim - while most university students do not. Those university students went to the streets and held a protest of their own… to the tune of 6000 of them.

But there is another side to this story. The Charedi side. Ynet has an op-ed by one such Charedi by the name of Menachem Gsheid. It is a scathing attack on all those in the secular world who criticize them. (So much for accusations against Ynet of anti Charedi bias.)

Mr. Gsheid is really upset. He says that he and fellow Charedim are sick and tired of being vilified and being treated worse than Arabs! Here are some choice excerpts:

The ugly, wretched Israeli hypocrisy was fully exposed this past week. The all-out assault against the haredi community in wake of the income supplement law for yeshiva students crossed every red line.

It was as if the signal was given and anyone with a pen or a keyboard charged at the victim and sunk his teeth into it. A foreigner who would have landed here could think that all the State’s maladies start and end with young men who study the Torah; the one that gives us the right to live in the Land of Israel.

The status quo that has been maintained for dozens of years, just like the fact we are dealing with small sums of money here, did not stop any member of the orchestrated campaign who sought to slam, hurt, and de-legitimize students of the Torah.

At the end of the day, we are talking about some NIS 1,000 (roughly $300) per month for a yeshiva student with three children. Will this sum of money prevent him from going to work? You think this sum will solve all the problems he has in life? His housing expenses? The mortgage? The food?...

The scope of venom directed at us makes it appear as though we personify all the wickedness and corruption around here…

We, the haredim, do not need anyone’s kosher certificate for Israel’s right to exist in the Holy Land. This land is promised to its scholars and thinkers in the Book of Books. Without substantive attachment to the Bible, we have no place here…

We are not always able to explain our moves in a manner that would be satisfy the audience, but we despise those who think that NIS 1,000 shekels would change the minds of people who decided to dedicate themselves to Torah studies…

For years now we’ve been subjected to harsh and humiliating attacks. This includes all of us, including those who work, join the IDF, enroll in academic studies or perform their national service…

OK. I hear him. But… ugly, wretched Israeli hypocrisy? That’s a broad brush stroke and hints at an underlying anti State bias on his part. I would advise Mr. Gsheid to take a deep breath - and chill.

I’m sure that he honestly feels that way. I suppose there is some ugly, wretchedness that he has seen, read about, or even experienced. There are some anti Torah types in Israel who say ugly wretched things about Charedim. Why they do is the subject of another post. But I hardly think they came to these anti Frum sentiments in a vacuum. Nor do I believe that they reflect majority attitudes.

Though I can’t blame university students for feeling discrimination in not getting the same subsidies that Charedim do – that is not the real the issue. Nor does it matter how little the subsidies for Charedim are. It is still taxpayer money going to a small segment of the Israeli populace that many people feel is not justified.

The sense by secular and Dati Jews is that they are carrying all the weight. It isn't that they do not value Torah learning. Certainly Datim do. They have been taught the value of Torah study and encouraged to do it themselves. And many of them do so post high school in Hesder Yeshivos. And even most Chilonim value Torah study at some level. Very few are actually anti Torah.

But they see a population that contributes neither to army service nor the economy. At least not in significant numbers. What they do see is tax dollars which come mostly from their pockets being prioritized toward Charedi needs. And they resent it! Especially when blood is shed by only one side - the non Charedi side.

Things are changing a bit now with Nachal Charedi. And more Charedim are getting into the workforce. But there is a history here. And that is what they think of. Any move by Charedim to hold on to - or increase their take from the public dole is seen as an injustice - even by Datim.

That explains what most of the media criticism is about. It isn't anti Charedi bias. It is seen as the opposite - government bias in favor of Charedim.

I agree with Mr. Gsheid about the importance of Torah study. I place the highest value on it. I certainly understand his dedication to it. But it is a mistake to say that secular critics in the media vilify Charedim and Torah study. I recall no vilification at all of Torah learning in any of the critical pieces I read.

Unfortunately Mr. Gsheid sees the world only through his own narrow lens. He doesn't understand the legitimate concerns of those he vilifies. Perhaps he should take a step back and think about it.