The chutzpa of former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni knows no bounds. In an interview to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week, she slammed the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “selling the state to the ultra-Orthodox.” Likud has “granted the Haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the State of Israel,” she accused.
What a grand historical lie! What an inversion of the truth! Just the opposite is true. It was the political Left in Israel that in the 1990s handed the keys to Israel’s Jewish character over to the Ultra-Orthodox, in order to purchase Haredi support for Oslo I and II. It was the Left’s sellout to the Haredim, for the sake of “peace with the Palestinians,” that brought us Haredi control over the official State Rabbinate, Rabbinical Courts, Municipal Religious Councils, Kashrut agencies, and more. It was Labor and Kadima, not Likud, which “granted the Haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the State of Israel.”
Let’s go back a bit in history. For more than 40 years, the Religious Zionist (or Mizrachi, or Modern Orthodox) community in Israel sought to serve as a bridge between the religious and secular communities in Israel, and acted with the benefit of all Israelis in mind. Its political party, the National Religious Party (NRP), was the “natural partner” in every Labor-led government from Ben-Gurion to Rabin and Peres. Religious Zionism served as the patron of Israel’s state religious character, negotiating the preservation of basic Shabbat and kashrut observation in the public sphere, and establishing the chief rabbinate, the army rabbinate, the religious councils and courts and other cultural and statutory institutions.
In general, this community’s rabbis and religious court judges were loving, moderate and accommodating in their approach and demeanor. They invested modern Zionism and Israeli patriotism with religious, spiritual and even messianic meaning. They served in the Israeli army, celebrated Yom Haatzmaut, and believed that they were the servants of all Israelis – secular and religious.
With the establishment of Gush Emunim after the Yom Kippur War, this community also became politically right wing and the spearhead of the settlement enterprise. With the rise of Likud, it became a regular coalition partner for the Begin and Shamir governments.
Haredi “stinking maneuvers” around Religious Zionism and in support of the political Left began in 1990 with then-Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who attempted to bring down the unity government led by Prime Minister Shamir and install a Peres government instead. The move failed, but the die was cast for a grand deal between the Left and the Haredim.
When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party brought the Oslo I accords to the Knesset for approval in September 1993, he relied on Haredi votes, among others, to push the accord through over NRP objections. This was even more apparent in September 1995, when Labor managed to eke the Oslo II accord through Knesset by a hairbreadth, literally buying votes with Mitsubishi sedans and purchasing outright the backing of the Ultra Orthodox by promising them dominion over the NRP’s state religious empires.
Similarly, the disastrous disengagement from Gaza – which expelled 9,000 mostly Religious Zionist men, women and children from their homes and destroyed their synagogues, yeshivot and communities – was rammed through the Knesset by Kadima, with the support of the three Ultra Orthodox factions. The Haredi yeshiva deals and “gedolim” were silent, and silently supportive. After all, they had a good deal going with Sharon, Peres, Olmert, Livni and Barak.
In the following years, Ultra Orthodox parties and their rabbis conducted a slow but inexorable conquest of the rabbinate and religious courts. Ultra Orthodox candidates defeated Religious Zionist candidates for the post of Chief Rabbi, with the backing of Labor and Kadima. Livni’s closest ally, Haim Ramon, personally presided over the election of two Haredi Chief Rabbis. The religious court bench too was populated almost exclusively with Haredi judges, again with the backing of secular politicians from the Left. As Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert marched lock in step with the Haredim of that city, paving the way for the election of a Haredi mayor as his successor.
The NRP and its offshoots screamed bloody murder, but no-one was listening. The deal was clear to all: Haredi support (or abstention) for the Left’s Palestinian diplomatic escapades in exchange for Haredi predominance in state religious institutions. Thousands of state jobs – kashrut inspectors, municipal rabbis, judges and more – went to the Haredim.
In less than a decade, the deleterious results began to show: City rabbis who began demanding extreme gender separation requirements in municipal public events and public spaces, burial societies instituting strictures in funeral proceedings (especially regarding the role of women), courts applying stringencies in matters of marriage and divorce and especially conversion, and Haredi politicians (some also claiming the title rabbi) sounding off with xenophobic, anti-Zionist, anti-modern and anti-nationalist statements on public matters every Monday and Thursday.
Indeed, someone did “sell the state to the ultra-Orthodox” and “grant Haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the State of Israel.” But it wasn’t the Likud and it wasn’t Netanyahu. It was Livni and her colleagues. They created the out-of-control Haredi cartel which today has a stranglehold on our national religious bureaucracy and our discourse on religion and state. Now they are, perhaps, sorry.
Despite the fact the Haredi parties are part of his governing coalition, Netanyahu has supported the Tzohar Law (which would decrease the influence in marriage issues of extremist Haredi municipal rabbis and religious councils), boosted hesder yeshivot and Religious Zionist mechinot, and advanced some young and more modern Religious Zionist rabbinical candidates into public posts.
However, there is a long way to go. Rolling back the Haredi juggernaut so callously and carelessly created by Livni and her Labor-Kadima predecessors in their blind zeal to advance Oslo-era peace politics – will take a generation or more.