Panic and anger over ‘anti-Charedi’ coalition

By Nathan Jeffay, March 28, 2013
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Charedim in Jerusalem protesting against the universal draft earlier this month (Photo: Flash 90)

Charedim in Jerusalem protesting against the universal draft earlier this month (Photo: Flash 90)

Even for Jerusalem, where Jew-against-Jew tensions often get bitter, this attack is harsh. On unsigned posters across the city’s religious neighbourhoods, posters draw a parallel between one of Israel’s political parties and the ancient enemy of the Jews, Amalek.

“Remember what Jewish Home did to you,” they say, borrowing the famous biblical phrasing about Amalek, who cruelly attacked the Israelites in the desert. And Jewish Home’s crime? Insisting that the Charedi parties were left out of Israel’s new government.

The strong polemic points to the large degree of panic, anger and frustration in Israel’s Charedi community that the new government has become one of the first since the state’s establishment to exclude Charedi parties.

And the fact that Jewish Home, a fellow Orthodox party (it is modern-Orthodox) was involved in this is seen as the ultimate betrayal.

Charedi posters decry Jewish Home as the cruel enemy

The Charedi reaction is also felt in rabbis’ sermons, in the community’s media and in parliament. When the Knesset met to inaugurate the new government, a United Torah Judaism politician tore up a copy of the coalition agreement, saying he wanted to protest the government “before God”.

The weekly newspaper Hamodia declared on its front page last week: “Government without Charedim — crisis in the making.” On its pages, the coalition deal is presented not as a political deal with winners and losers, but as a boycott of the Charedim.

It is well-known that Charedim are alarmed that the new government wants to end the exemption that their sons currently enjoy from military service. This is the theme of most of the condemnations. It is an emotive issue in the Charedi community, one which lends itself well to public discussion. But the alarm in the community runs deeper.

Through participation in the government, Charedim have been able to secure handsome amounts of public funding for their causes, especially schools and yeshivot. Such funding is not unique to Charedim, it should be added, with virtually all political parties doing the same for their electorates — but the Charedi factions are particularly skilled negotiators.

In 2010, around NIS 1.05 billion in allocations for Charedim were added to the budget, and, in 2011, the figure was NIS 850 million, according to Hiddush, the self-appointed watchdog of Charedi politicians. The figures are equivalent to around £219 million and £150 million respectively, and Hiddush claims that much of the money went to fund yeshivah study.

Hiddush reported that a significant slice of the money — almost a third in 2010 — appeared to have been approved to keep United Torah Judaism in the coalition. Hiddush cited treasury documents describing the money as being for “UTJ coalition use.”

But the Charedi reliance on government influence goes well beyond funding. With high birth rates, one of its biggest concerns is finding adequate housing for its young couples in a country where land for building is released slowly. Control of the housing ministry has proved key to ensuring a steady stream of new housing in Charedi areas. Rubbing salt into the wound is the fact that this ministry now rests in the hands of the — some would claim “Amalekite” — Jewish Home.

Last updated: 7:45pm, March 28 2013