Lapid Flunks the Leadership Test

Yair Lapid pushed the criminalization provisions in the new draft law through the cabinet. Without those provisions, he told his cabinet colleagues, he could not sell the law to his supporters. Rather than call his bluff and possibly bring the government down in the process, those who opposed criminalization – including Ayelet Shaked, who headed the committee that formulated the law, and Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon — caved and voted for criminalization.

Now, Lapid may be right that he could not have sold his supporters on the draft law without the criminalization provisions, but if so that merely reflects the degree to which he has bound himself by his own demagoguery and failed to lead.

In a similar fashion, Yasir Arafat was likely telling the truth when he told Bill Clinton at Camp David that signing a peace agreement with Israel would be tantamount to a death sentence for him. But that admission reflected the extent to which Arafat had used the Palestinian Authority media and educational system to whip the Palestinian populace into a frenzy of hatred of Israel since the onset of Oslo. He completely failed to educate his followers to the reality that a Palestinian state would require concrete Palestinian concessions, including most notably the “right of return.” Mahmoud Abbas is even further from being willing and/or able to sign any end of conflict agreement today, and for the same reason.

LAPID KNOWS that criminal sanctions will never be applied. For one thing, the government has no intention of throwing large numbers of haredim into jail. And secondly, the design of the new draft law is such that the haredi community will in all likelihood be able to meet the flexible quotas, which are not designed to take effect for another three and a half years.

More importantly, he also knew, or should have known, that the criminal sanctions would not only fail in their declared intent to increase haredi compliance with the law, but would be entirely counterproductive from the point of view of those pushing for greater haredi participation in the IDF and national service. No less an authority than Shahar Ilan, the one-time haredi beat reporter for Ha’aretz and today the director of Hiddush, an organization with a specifically anti-haredi agenda, has been writing for nearly a year that the one sure way to limit haredi participation in the IDF would be to criminalize failure to comply with the draft law.

Prior to passage of the new draft law, a petition signed by more than a dozen academic researchers on the haredi community and a diverse group of public figures, including Ami Ayalon, former chief of the Shin Bet, argued that a “law based on criminal sanctions would be understood by the haredi community as a declaration of war on the world of the yeshivos and an expression of contempt by the state of the value of Torah learning.” Not only would such sanctions create a “tear in the societal fabric,” the 33 signatories warned, but the criminal sanctions would “cause an end to the integration of the haredi community” and likely to “leading rabbis prohibiting any form of enlistment.”

The hundreds of thousands who attended the mass prayer gathering in response to the criminalization provisions proved that prediction to be dead on. The type of economic sanctions favored by Shaked, even if the pain were to be felt more tangibly and directly by the haredi community, could never have drawn those numbers to a prayer rally.

And Shahar Ilan reported last week that there has been a dramatic decrease in enlistment in haredi tracks in the IDF. Thus Lapid has succeeded in setting back a decade-long trend of increased haredi involvement in the IDF.

To understand why one must appreciate the deep suspicion of the haredi community towards the IDF. The IDF has been since the earliest days of the state not only a fighting force but an agent of socialization. Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion always emphasized its importance as an instrument for forging a unified Israeli identity.

That role as a socializing agent has not diminished over the years. The manner in which the IDF came down on national religious soldiers who asked to be excused from an event with women singers — having no purpose remotely related to defense — is one recent example of the use of the army for indoctrination into correct thinking. (Some feminists actually oppose any influx of haredim into the IDF out of a fear that it would set back the move towards complete integration of women into every aspect of service. As one Ha’aretz editorial put it: If large numbers of haredim enter the IDF, one of two things can happen. Either they will stop being haredim, or the IDF will stop being the IDF, and the latter is not worth it.)

Comments by Education Minister Shai Piron to the effect that creating a single Israeli identity is much more important to him than equality of service have done little to calm haredi fears that the purpose of the push for IDF service is to socialize haredi youth into an entirely different value system. Haredim view many of the norms and mores of the general Israeli society as antithetical to Torah values, and have no wish to have their children socialized to those values.

DESPITE THEIR LONGSTANDING FEAR of the IDF, haredi society began to take a more positive view of IDF service over the last decade. Many young men from haredi homes — and increasingly their parents — recognized that IDF service could be the best means for gaining the discipline and positive self-identity that they lacked.

In addition, IDF programs for married men in their mid-to-late 20s showed promise of creating a win-win situation. Haredi men would gain valuable training for earning a livelihood, and the IDF would gain a large pool of soldiers well suited to filling critical manpower needs in technological fields and likely to remain in the IDF beyond the term of mandatory service. Already five years ago, my son-in-law in Bnei Brak commented that it was not uncommon to see young men who had until recently been learning in kollel bringing their children to nursery school in uniform.

As soon as criminalization of non-service began to be discussed, however, those trends slowed. Lapid handed the most conservative elements in haredi society, which had long opposed the trends towards greater integration of haredim in the larger society, the most potent possible weapon. They could now claim that the government had taken a positive step to denigrate Torah study by creating the possibility that someone might be branded a criminal for his determination to continue his Torah studies. And thus, they argue, service in the IDF constitutes service on behalf of a state that has taken positive steps to show contempt for Torah study.

Immediately, haredim in uniform began to experience forms of social ostracism to which they had been immune for some years and to be verbally harassed in their communities. Shahar Ilan reports on the increased incidence of such harassment over the last nine months. No wonder haredi enlistment has declined. (That reaction in the haredi community has been far from universal: Haredi soldiers in uniform who attended the mass tefillah gathering were warmly received and swept into the circle of dancers.)

Lapid has sometimes sought to justify the criminalization provisions as necessary for the legislation to survive Supreme Court review. But that claim does not pass the smell test. One does not threaten to bring down the government over the possibility of legal challenges. And a decision by the Supreme Court would have had far less importance in hareidi eyes than the imprimatur of the elected representatives of six million Jews on legislation that brands full-time Torah learning as a potentially criminal act of non-contribution to society.

Lapid sought to demonstrate that he had socked it to the haredi public, and to thereby rally his electoral base. It did not matter to him how negative the impact, even in terms of his own professed goals. That is not a leader.

This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

You may also like...

13 Responses

  1. Y. Ben-David says:

    Rav Rosenblum-
    For years I have read your excellent writings and have particularly enjoyed and profited from your articulate, and even eloquent defense of Israel, your praise for Yoni Netanyahu’s writings and your cogent, if mild criticism of certain aspects of Haredi society, such as your recent admission that parts of Haredi society have lost contact and identification of the Jewish world and the realization that the kollel society of “learners” is not for everyone. You even showed courage in opening up yourself to harsh criticism for your opposition to Obama’s policy regarding Iran.
    Thus, I was completely flabbergasted at your recent piece here claiming that there was “credible evidence” that the anti-Nazi boycott made shortly after Hitler came to power made him suddenly decide to do the Holocaust. I can’t imagine what brought you, someone who knows history, to write that which is nothing but Neturei Karta propaganda. (Yes, Hitler was enraged by the boycott, but a lot of things enraged him and there were many, complex factors that brought him to the final decision to “go all the way” but that came AFTER the war had started, as I am sure you know) When I began observant, at the same time you did, in the 1970’s, I was, and am still moved by the concept of “Torat Emet” and that is what I am constantly telling my children…to look for the EMET. Twisting facts in order to maintain a certain “political line” and conformist thinking to supposedly support a “higher goal” of strengthing “social solidarity” is ultimately self-defeating as no doubt you yourself realize.
    There are people in Israel, non-Haredim, who have spent considerable time in prison for refusing to go to the IDF, including Sara Netanyahu. The average Israeli finds it difficult to understand why someone who is not studying Torah full-time but is simply born into a certain community is to be automatically exempted from national service and faces real punishment for breaking the law in this regard.. This has nothing to do with anything like “cynical manpipulations” by politicians like Lapid. This is the PEOPLE who want reforms and political maneuvering which may bring the Haredi parties back to the coalition will not make this problem go away.

    Y. Ben-David

  2. Adi says:

    Been frustrated with much of what’s been going on here this past month but this and the mediation article were excellent.

    Lapid is a slimeball. I doubt he’ll make it to two reelections, but I really hope he doesn’t make it to even one.

  3. Yehoshua Duker says:

    I take offense at your choice of analogy. You could just as easily have written: In a similar fashion, John Boehner was likely telling the truth when said that the Republican rank and file would not allow a budget compromise. Comparing the actions of Lapid (on an issue that by your own admission is not in fact all that damaging to the chareidi public) to a terrorist who was directly and indirectly responsible for many Jewish deaths is the type of demagoguery that leads only to an elevation of tension and hatred on both sides.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Meet the new politician, same as the old politician.

  5. DF says:

    As someone who used to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, I used to hear “I cant sell this to the membership” all the time. It doesn’t mean the union negotiator is a bad leader, it just means it’s not something he’s interested in selling. In other words, Lapid wanted the criminalization element in the law, and the excuse of “not being able to sell it” is just the spin surrounding it.

    Having said that, I take JR’s point, but respectfully disagree on two items:

    1. “Economic sanctions alone would not have drawn the same numbers to a prayer rally” – charedim regularly show up at events like funerals in the hundreds of thousands, so often that it’s not considered anything impressive. If their leaders call a rally, the charedim will show up. There’s no reason to think economic sanctions alone would somehow have been different. Indeed, there were plans for an American rally long before the criminalization component was added.

    2. “charedim began a more positive look on the IDF over the last decade” – Halevai. Sadly, there is no evidence for that. If this were true, even if were only true in mere words and symbolism – like mi sheberachs, public and unqualified expressions of thank yous, donating sifre torah or shalach manos to soldiers (like Young Israel) – the Charedim would not find themselves in this pickle.

  6. dr. bill says:

    I wonder who else flunked the leadership test? somehow laws not meant to be applied in practice come to mind.

  7. Nachum Boehm says:

    Until the Chareidi enrollment numbers play themselves out in, say, ten years from now, it’s too early to declare a lack of foresight or effective leadership on Lapid’s part. While for the next three and a half years Chareidi enrollment in Nachal Chareidi may or may not trend downward, it is almost certain that once the law is implemented there will be many, many more Chareidim in the army than there were before the law was passed, even if some Chareidi Gedolim and Rabbonim continue to loudly voice opposition to the law.

    The view that Chareidi Gedolim and Rabbonnim who are not opposed in principle to Nachal Chareidi, will advise their followers to avoid service, due to feelings of insult at ham handedness in the passing of a law, is demeaning to those Chareidi Gedolim and Rabbonim.

    I expect the exact opposite: Because there are potentialy higher consequences for avoiding service, it gives more cover to the Chareidi silent moderates and their silent moderate Gedolim and Rabbonim to advise their followers to act in their best interests, and allow the trend of Chareidi army enrollment to continue and increase.

  8. David Ohsie says:

    Rabbi Rosenblum, granting, arguendo, the premises of your argument, it would seem that there is also political leadership vacuum on the haredi side of this conflict. I assume that you would agree the social ostracism of haredim in uniform, which you ascribe to the most conservative elements of haredi society, is undesirable. It also, like the events at the Orot school in Beit Shemesh, gives ammunition and motivation to those who support Lapid, just as you mention that the criminal provisions of the law engenders opposition among haredim. In addition, given your premise that criminal sanctions would never be applied and therefore serve no real purpose in the law, it seems the haredi political opposition and protests to the sanctions are also misguided. Perhaps, if there was actually a combined political haredi leadership that adopted your views, a similar outcome could have been achieved without creating additional anti-haredi sentiment and making Lapid’s victory look bigger than it was, as well as promoting the proper respect to IDF volunteers in place of the derision that they receive now, which I’m sure that you support. While it is easier and more enjoyable to critique your opponents, it is perhaps more useful to influence your friends.

  9. L. Oberstein says:

    As Tip O’Neil once said,”all politics is local”. The voters for yesh Atid are not the same as the voters for UTJ. Campaigning for votes from one assumes that the other group will never ever vote for that party and their is no need to compromise. In our two party system, when it functions properly, there is a need for each side to find common ground . When Porush handcuffed himself to the Knesset rostrum, he was playing to his audience,which is not the Knesset but his voters. I cannot predict the future of Yesh Atid, it’s getting 19 seats was the result of a last minute groundswell of undecided voters. If Lapid cannot produce results on his entire agenda, his party may not last.It may go the way of Kadima, the largest party in the previous Knesset. The whole thing is spin . If only there were a way to have everyone sit down like grownups and work it out, but,even in our two party USAm that seems a lost cause.Even more so in fragmentalised Israeli politics. Keep on trying Jonathan, maybe some day the thinking people will find a way through this quagmire, both here and there.

  10. Y. Ben-David says:

    Something got garbled in my first posting, a second one was added to it. There is an error in that part. The one who went to prison for refusing to serve in the IDF was NOT Sara Netanyahu, but rather, her nephew.

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Exellent article! If all politics as Tip O’Neill noted, is local in nature, then demagoguery by Lapid and his allies can be expected to generate the same from the most conservative quarters of the Charedi world. The time has long come for informal discussions between Israelis of all hashkafic POVs that would repudiate the current dangerous rhetorical overkill, recognize the value and contributions of each other to Jewish survival without engaging in the rhetorical and poisonous overkill of who was and is right in their approach and obvious triumphalism.

  12. Yisrael Asper says:

    “Lapid sought to demonstrate that he had socked it to the haredi public, and to thereby rally his electoral base. It did not matter to him how negative the impact, even in terms of his own professed goals. That is not a leader.”

    He has at the very least condemned his party to trivial political status overtime.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    In view of Lapid’s pattern of demagogic behavior in office, there is no reason for any religious Jew of any camp to associate with him and his party, even if some once saw him as a credible partner.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This