A Haredi-leftist alliance?
Poisoned relations between Israel’s secular Labor Zionists and its ultra-Orthodox minority go back to the very founding of the state. After independence, Labor leaders were ruthless in secularizing newly arriving immigrants, refashioning waves of refugees into farmers and fighters, the “new Jews” needed by the fledgling nation. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox were horrified at the religious insensitivity of the leftists. Moreover, they rejected Zionism outright as a violation of religious law and so turned their backs in disgust on David Ben Gurion’s state-building enterprise. As the decades passed, the Haredi community swelled in size but continued to live as an insular subculture, treating the government as just another goyish sovereign to be played for communal benefits. When Menachem Begin’s Likud Party wrested control from Labor in 1977 Haredim found a more sympathetic political partner and the Haredi-right alliance remained solid.This starting paragraph fails to note Ben-Gurion gave exemptions to Haredis from serving in the army, among other mistakes, much to his regret later on. Nor does it mention how, in the early days of the modern state, United Torah Judaism had been part of early government coalitions, even if they didn't seek prominent roles in the cabinet. And today, Labor is anything but Zionist. It's utterly hypocritical how they try to claim they are, when Zionism, a synonym for patriotism, is something they probably rejected early on.
But today, a remarkable new path is opening up. After last year’s January elections, a weakened Likud sided with a new centrist party, Yesh Atid, which promised to force the ultra-Orthodox into the military draft and to effectively reduce their economic subsidies. Stung, the Haredi political leadership began to look elsewhere to shore up its diminished political clout. Meanwhile, the left, whose support had been steadily drifting to the center, and which had not won an election since 1999, was searching for new partners.Oh yes, and that's because of the socialist economic platform both sides uphold. Up to a point, Haredi politicians like Shas reps could be cunning, supporting the right on issues pertinent to Israel's geographic integrity. But there have been times they did this on the condition we furnish their lifestyle with our tax shekels, and don't require them to serve in the army. And that's no way to build confidence. Besides, the realization they've been milking non-Haredis for all they're worth - to say nothing of their insular MO and governing by collective mindsets - has made people realize the Haredi community cannot be coddled or permitted to get away with how they're fleecing everyone else.
So the time was right for a younger generation of Haredim and leftists to find common ground and forge new alliances on a shared platform of peace and multiculturalism. The transformed political landscape is fueling their efforts, which had quietly been going on for years but have now suddenly picked up momentum.
As for the alliance with Yesh Atid, it's worth noting some of the Likud members didn't want the Haredi parties in the coalition this time, because they did find their demands for coddling going way too far, and their refusal to work and serve the country a very serious detractor.
One young leader trying to bridge the divide between Haredim and the secular left is 35-year-old B’nei Brak native Moshe Friedman. An Ashkenazi kollel student and graduate of Jerusalem’s Hebron Yeshiva, Friedman is a scion of the prominent Broide rabbinic line and great-grandson of the leader of Jerusalem’s 1920s ultra-Orthodox community, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeldt. But his pedigree has not stopped him from choosing an unconventional path—one that may be a harbinger for the next generation of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox elite. Today he is studying law at Hebrew University, thanks to a program directed at emerging leaders from among Haredi yeshiva students. He is also founder and director of Kama-Tech, a social venture effort to help promising ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students break into the upper ranks of Israel’s hi-tech industry.I'm afraid they are alright, one that thinks it's illegal for Jews to found a modern state and only when the Messiah comes can it be done, or maybe that's not what they think at all. Maybe their socialist mentality leads them to falsely believe they should live fully in exile, even if it means milking innocent non-Jews for all they're worth, and leading to resentment where it's better avoided. That's the case in some ways with Lev Tahor, whose ringmasters are likely infantalizing their subjects deliberately and giving them poor self-esteem so they can embarrass Jews with more common sense in the non-Jewish world.
Thanks to the success of the Kama-Tech initiative, a few years ago Friedman was invited by the U.S. State Department to join its prestigious International Visitor Leader Program, an exchange initiative designed to bring emerging leaders to the U.S. to expose them to American economic, cultural, and political life.
His road trip across America with a group that included Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and secular-left Israelis, forced Friedman to consider the stance of Haredim toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and toward Zionism. “I had never been in a situation in which I had to articulate the core attitude of the Haredim towards these issues,” he reflected. “In my yeshiva education, geopolitical concerns were not at the center of discussion.”
He also realized that “nobody actually knows” what the Haredim think about peace issues. “But everyone assumes we’re on the extreme right.” Everywhere he went, religious people were blamed for the conflict; he was told that religious Jews were all settlers, that they were locked in a religious dispute with the Muslims, and that they would be the cause of World War III. “We Haredim are shrouded behind a veil of ignorance,” he concluded.
The ignorance stems from confusion between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and its national religious—the settlers who believe the West Bank is part of the biblical Land of Israel. For years, the two camps had a marriage of convenience within successive right-wing coalitions. But today they are bitterly at odds.Anybody who cares about Israel should not let this worrisome pact go unnoticed. In fact, as I'd wondered earlier, what are the chances some formerly secular leftists became Haredi in past times and joined with anti-Zionist groups? It may seem farfetched on the surface, but underneath could tell a more eye-opening story.
On his return home, Friedman began to go to meetings devoted to a liberal agenda and dominated by secular leftists; he was usually the only Haredi in the room. He believed Haredim and leftists had a common agenda but that there were decades of mistrust and ignorance to be overcome. One experience in particular turned him “into an evangelist of the thing.”
Friedman had been invited to a roundtable at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute to discuss issues of social equality. Many prominent academic and political leaders were there. Going around the table, everyone had to introduce himself and Friedman said, “I’m a Haredi and a leftist.” Across the table from him, a former head of Israel’s Labor Party looked him straight in the eye and said, “You don’t belong to us, you’re not left-wing.” As the two began to argue, Hebrew University professor Hillel Cohen leaped to his feet and exploded. “You in the left are always excluding,” Cohen said. “You never include! This is the story of the left in Israel—you keep pushing people out of your camp. You’re so arrogant. It’s like you’re running an exclusive club for leftist, liberal intellectuals and it’s hard to get a ticket!”
Fired up, Friedman realized that secular left leaders needed to get to know Haredim. So he initiated a monthly encounter session between the inner circle of the secular-left peace camp and representatives from the heart of Haredi religious and cultural life, both female and male. About 20 people have been taking part for a year and a half, and Friedman has expanded the agenda to help strengthen the bond. The group now works on five core issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; social justice and economic issues; the relationship between religion and state; the imposition of a core educational curriculum; and the military draft.
Itzik Sudri, former Shas spokesman and relative of the late Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was a pioneer in building these bridges. A signer of the 2003 Geneva Initiative, for over a decade Sudri has led a number of peace initiatives to educate the ultra-Orthodox community on the importance of a peace agreement. He often works with influential rabbinic leaders and key media representatives, but Haredi women dominate one of his programs, which is run by InterPeace and sponsored by the U.N. Development Program. Sudri believes women have brought something important to the negotiating table, “the common fate of being mothers and a greater will to solve problems.”Compelling my foot. It's clear the secular left must see the Haredis can make perfect allies, just like the late Shulamit Aloni did back in 1992. Her party, Meretz, was never against religion per se. They were only against it as practiced by the pro-Israel crowd.
But Sudri’s audiences are not always receptive to his message. At a recent forum in ultra-Orthodox B’nei Brak, the young Haredi crowd was giving him a hard time. “What kind of peace do you want? Will we have to mix with the Arabs?” a young woman inquired suspiciously. Sudri cleverly responded, “Look, the leftist’s fantasy is someday to eat hummus in Damascus. I don’t want to eat hummus in Damascus because it’s not kosher. I want two states for two people. Separation.” The message resonated.
Sudri is involved with a group preparing position papers to forge a consensus between political leaders from both sides. The demographic forecast is politically compelling. Currently, 18 percent of Israeli children between the ages of five and nine are Haredi, and the community’s reproductive rate is explosive. But several young secular activists involved in this rapprochement, who have asked to remain anonymous because of the delicacy of these negotiations, said it was not only a question of political expediency but also of a shift in ideology.
“If I look at my parents’ generation, they really were anti-Haredi,” said one. “There’s an embrace now of multiculturalism that didn’t exist 20 years ago; it’s not just a cynical look for new partners.”
I can see why "two-state solution" would appeal to Haredi isolationists: because they despise any Jew "lower" than they are and wish to form their own, in a form of segregation almost similar to how Islamists want to form them. No wonder more people are beginning to see the most extreme sects as the ultimate fifth columnists.
One member of Friedman’s group who straddles both the religious and secular worlds is Hagit Ofran. Granddaughter of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Israel’s legendary Orthodox religious philosopher, scientist, and fierce opponent of the Occupation, Ofran today is the Director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team.When such an anti-Israel movement is involved, you know something's wrong. Depending on how hostile a specific movement's attitude is towards Israel as a state, you can be sure some, like the Satmar, will agree to form some kind of alliance with Peace Now. When that happens, it'll be a dark day indeed.
“I didn’t grow up secular, so my Jewish identity is very different than my friends in the secular left,” Ofran says. “I can speak the language of the Haredim although I’m not religious. I’m not something so clearly defined” Although she doesn’t believe “the average Israeli media consumer” would regard the Haredi-left alliance as an obvious one, she believes it can be achieved. “On some issues it’s easier than others, but it’s not impossible; it’ll just take lots of work to get there.”
The rabbinic leadership has always been moderate in their attitude toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Friedman sees that issue, halakhically, as the least problematic. “The national religious groups built an entire ideology that has exalted land over life. Haredim totally disagree,” he says. He cites the Haredi leadership’s support, in 2005, of the withdrawal from Gaza. A group of national religious rabbis came to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, the ultimate Haredi leader, to challenge his position. Shteinman replied, “Who gave you permission to settle in Gaza in the first place? Every day you were there was a sin.”"Moderate"? It's more like negligent and irresponsible. More offensive is the smear tactic he uses on non-Haredi religious groups. Since when did they ever say human life isn't important? If it hadn't been for that repulsive disengagement, there would've less lives taken by the jihad that followed with rockets and the Hamas wouldn't have been able to set up a tunnel network so easily.
The diplomatic corps has begun to take notice. When Friedman got back from the American I.V.L.P. program, he tried to convince the U.S. Embassy to get Haredi leaders involved in the peace process. Encountering skepticism, he began taking junior diplomats to meet religious politicians and the heads of the largest yeshivas, eventually working his way up to U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro.This Friedman is dangerous alright. How soon will it be before we learn he's been coordinating with European diplomats too?
The challenge, as Ofran sees it, is not the leadership but the Haredi rank and file. “I’ve spoken to Haredi friends—they say the street is very racist,” she says. “You see Haredim at the demonstrations of the right wing. Even the killers of Abu Khdeir had a Haredi background, which is astonishing.”You also don't see Haredis at every right-wing demonstration, and others like Neturei Karta, are more than willing to join left-wing demonstrations if asked. Has it occurred to Friedman that the crackpot who murdered Abu Khdeir and had the gall to blabber he's the Messiah in court had connections with the Shas party, ironically one of the biggest fifth columnists in Haredi society?
But are there racists among Haredis? Alas, yes there are, and yes, they can be racist towards Arabs too, though not necessarily in the ways the left might think, but more in a way that stems from a leftist ideology of apathy. Just take a look at some of the extremists in Beit Shemesh who signaled racism towards blacks.
Sudri affirms that he was once at a meeting of young Haredim who were so racist that they “made Kahane Chai look like a chapter of Peace Now.” At the end, though, he asked one of them the “million dollar question.” If his rebbe told him to support a peace agreement that even included returning half of Jerusalem, would he support it? “Of course!” was the reply. “If the rebbe tells us to do something…” So, Sudri is tactical: his efforts lie in getting the leadership to make statements to the media, which will then be watched by the community.If Ovadia Yosef were still alive today, it's possible he'd make harmful statements to the press, though it's unlikely he'd go so far to openly support ceding any part of Jerusalem because he knows that even among Shas faithful, there's a portion who oppose it, mainly those who aren't Haredi. But that doesn't mean there aren't overlords out there who would openly condone surrender of Jewish land to Islamofascism, and it could happen tomorrow.
Friedman, too, believes in educating “the young and unsophisticated. The rightist camp cites the Bible, uses terms like the Chosen People, speaks of messianic times; they use a religious vernacular. On the other hand, the left speaks a very secular language, speaking of human rights, universalism, being a nation like all others. Many young Haredim think we are right wing because the right speaks their language. But in reality, the Haredi hashkafa [religious worldview] and rabbinic leadership are all far, far, far left.” He notes that hundreds of piskei halakhah, Jewish legal rulings, issued by the greatest and most authoritative Haredi leaders, like Rav Elazar Schach and Rav Ovadia Yosef with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are almost invariably dovish.That's right, Yosef was a dhimmi in some ways, and he was also hostile to some non-Haredi sources like rabbi David Stav from Shoham, whose candidacy for chief rabbi he opposed based on his status alone. Towards the end, they cite a common ground between Haredi isolationists and leftists, but also distort information very badly:
Ironically, the issue upon which Haredim and the secular left harmonize most easily is socialism, an ethical pillar of historic Zionism. Citing a poll that showed Haredim in Israel as the group least favorable to capitalism in favor of socialism, Friedman explained, “This is not just out of self-interest but is part of our core belief system. We are not just interested in making money but in justice, caring, charity. These are values that are taught in our society from an early age. It’s an all-consuming culture, and is not part of the capitalist-consumer lifestyle. We are a spiritual people that are values driven, not pleasure driven.”It's disgusting how Zionism and goodness knows what else are taken out of context for the sake of such awful propaganda. In remote times, ancient Jews worked for a living and socialism was not part of Judaism's belief system so much as it was part of Labor's beliefs in the 20th century. Just take a look at Hilchot 3:10-11 to see what the real beliefs are. How is that caring or even charitable and seeking justice? Those who try to weaken Israel's security through appeasement of Islam are not accomplishing any of those traits.
We've certainly learned something from this despite the bias involved. That there's Haredi activists out there determined to work as fifth columnists on the political level and do everything they can to undermine Israel. And the worst part is that there are some out there in both Haredi society and the left willing to join this movement