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NETANYAHU FAVORS ULTRA-ORTHODOX JEWS OVER IDF SOLDIERS

Yisrael Katz

Jerusalem:

Pandemonium in Israel after the end of the Saturday Sabbath! Tens of thousands of IDF soldiers were left stranded with no way to return to their bases after Sabbath leave. And why was that? Because Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, their Commander in Chief, bowed to the demand of his ultra-orthodox (Heredi in Hebrew) coalition partners to cease all maintenance work on the railway during the Sabbath. And since the thirteen ultra-orthodox MKs hold the balance of power in Bibi's sixty-seven member majority; they threatened to topple the government. The PM caved into their ultimatum rather than call their bluff. On Friday evening after the maintenance work had already begun, Bibi issued an urgent order barring all work on the Sabbath. That meant that the necessary work would have to be done by closing down the railway on Sunday, the start of the work-week in Israel. Of course, this is a wonderful recipe for stranding not only IDF soldiers, but also thousands of civilians going back to their jobs. In order to help the soldiers return to base, Bibi leapt into the fray by dispatching hundreds of buses to the railway stations he closed down to pick up the soldiers he marooned. Hopefully, IDF base commanders will not penalize soldiers who arrive late.

Most of the public has hit the roof over these shenanigans charging that it is another example of the government giving into the outrageous demands of Heredeem. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has neatly passed the red-hot potato to Transport Minister Yisrael Katz. The PM charged that Katz deliberately screwed up the issue in order to garner public support in his bid to become future leader of the Likud. Katz pleads not guilty - he counters that railway officials had told him categorically that the maintenance work was urgent and to do it on a work-day would cause chaos. The question now is whether Bibi will fire Katz. Relations between the two have hit an all-time low, with a Netanyahu official saying that Katz has tried to carry out a 'putsch' and take over the Likud leadership.

Naturally the Opposition parties are on the rampage charging that Netanyahu has 'waved another white flag of surrender' to the ultra-orthodox rather than calling them to order. Twenty-five MKs, the required number, demanded an urgent recall of the Knesset which is now in its summer recess. The fact that Netanyahu has created pandemonium for thousands of IDF soldiers trying to return to their bases is obviously a very delicate issue. This whole mess has fallen in Bibi's lap and he will have some hard explaining to do. The vast majority of Israelis are hitting the roof on two counts: first the chuztpa of the ultra-orthodox Israelis in demanding that no maintenance work be done on the Sabbath and secondly, Netanyahu's craven capitulation, it’s outrageous. Bear in mind, the vast majority of ultra-orthodox men refuse to serve in the IDF and have used their political clout to gain exemptions if they study in religious seminaries. Meanwhile the railroad officials say they often do necessary maintenance work on the Sabbath and even have a permanent permit to do so. In this case, there has recently been a big rise in passengers, which requires important safety work.By the bye - this old railroad song is not one of Bibi's favorites this weekend.

      'I've been working on the railroad

All the live long day'

Ayalon valley bridge

As for the ultra-orthodox, they say they are not to blame for this ongoing fiasco, farce. They signed a coalition agreement with Netanyahu that guaranteed the 'status quo' on preserving the Sabbath in public institutions and they were simply demanding that it be upheld. But this is patently false. Life for most secular Israelis continues as usual on the Sabbath. Although many places of commerce are closed there are many that remain open. While there is no public transportation Ben Gurion Airport remains open with aircraft flying in and out. Radio and TV stations remain on air and one can drive everywhere except for known religious neighborhoods that are cordoned off. Saturday afternoon soccer is a big hit and all the public beaches are packed. So why have the Haredeem been feeling their oats over the railway, which actually is closed down on the Sabbath? Except for necessary maintenance work, as in this case. Simply because they feel they have Bibi over the barrel and can topple his coalition government if they choose to do so, but why would they.

The Heredeem have eked out special payoffs, all legal, from the Prime Minister. For example, the financial grants to yeshiva seminary students, who are exempt from IDF service, have been boosted. In fact, an ultra-orthodox yeshiva student is paid more than an IDF soldier doing his compulsory military service. In addition, the government has also agreed that their school children not be legally required to learn math or English in their separate educational institutions. There are only religious studies on their curriculum. Not only does this rob Heredi children of a decent education, it also prevents them from acquiring work skills needed to get a job as adults. Female Heredi girls who study in separate schools are given some math and English to help finance their own families later on, to allow their husbands to spend all day in a yeshiva. Years ago an official Knesset inquiry found that 80% of the ultra- orthodox do not have jobs but do have families with an average of seven and eight children. Naturally they live on welfare from taxes paid by Israelis who do work, as well as donations from abroad.

Father and son at the Western Wall

How do the Heredeem justify this. They contend that they are soldiers in the service of the Almighty. Moreover they contribute no less than IDF combat troops by studying Torah and Talmud from dawn to midnight. In their view, without this contribution, Israel would not survive - how else can one explain the fact that the Jewish state still prospers or even exists when considering the repeated attempts 'to wipe it off the map'.

Whatever - all this is open to question. But what is certain is the railway farce will worsen the bad blood between ultra-orthodox and secular Jews. Will this be reflected in the political arena, where the Right wing Likud has generally tended to give into Heredi blackmail, in return for Heredi support on settlements and other Right wing issues? Probably not. Like most other fire-storms in Israel it will probably burn itself out in a couple of days and something new will take centre-stage. As long as the Centre-Left cannot present a credible leader, Bibi has nothing to worry about. But what is the meaning of credible? Some outstanding personality who is deemed fit to cope with Palestinian terrorism, Hamas, Hezbullah, and Daesh. Fit to deal with what rises from the ashes of Syria, an Iran bent on getting nuclear weapons, and American as well as international pressure. Oh yes, then there's always the challenge of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians that would leave the Jewish state with a decent chance of survival; Someone with the stature of Yitzak Rabin, Arik Sharon or possibly a Menachem Begin.

Good luck!

 

David Essing.

 

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