Against cyn­ics

Yair Lapid ex­plains why his party led the fight to draft haredim

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By YAIR LAPID

Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on Tues­day evening, after the High Court de­ci­sion on the equal­ity of na­tional bur­den, a young ultra-Ortho­dox jour­nal­ist asked me: “Don’t you un­der­stand that if you keep ar­gu­ing with the ultra-Ortho­dox on this is­sue they won’t agree to join your coali­tion [when you form a gov­ern­ment]?”

I an­swered him po­litely be­cause he was just do­ing his job, but I won­dered what it was that he didn’t un­der­stand: that was ex­actly the rea­son we pe­ti­tioned the High Court – not every­thing is po­lit­i­cal, not every­thing is about in­ter­ests. True, val­ues and prin­ci­ples comes with a price, but oth­er­wise what is the point of val­ues and prin­ci­ples?

In fact, I have more re­spect for the po­si­tion of the ultra-Ortho­dox on this is­sue than for the po­si­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu and his min­is­ters. The ultra-Ortho­dox are fight­ing for some­thing they be­lieve in. The prime min­is­ter and his min­is­ters pub­licly ad­mit that they be­lieve in noth­ing.

Just un­der two years ago I sat in the Knes­set on the night when the equal­ity of na­tional bur­den bill was can­celed by the coali­tion. The thing that stuck out more than any­thing was that it was the same peo­ple who had worked with us to pass the ex­act same law a year and half ear­lier.

In July 2013 Ne­tanyahu opened the cab­i­net meet­ing and proudly de­clared, “After 65 years, to­day we will pass the Equal­ity of Na­tional Bur­den [Law]!” Ayelet Shaked stood at the head of the “Shaked Com­mit­tee” that passed the law in the Knes­set. Naf­tali Ben­nett talked nos­tal­gi­cally about his army days and the im­por­tance of a truly na­tional mil­i­tary. For a mo­ment peo­ple be­lieved them. For a mo­ment we be­lieved politics wasn’t every­thing.

Then the gov­ern­ment col­lapsed and the ex­act same peo­ple voted to can­cel this his­toric law. When they were asked why, the an­swer was, “Be­cause first [Yesh Atid chair­man Yair] Lapid forced us and now [United To­rah Ju­daism chair­man Ya’acov] Litz­man forced us.”

I can ac­cept peo­ple who think dif­fer­ently to us on the is­sue of the IDF draft. I’m will­ing to ded­i­cate all the time in the world to con­vince them that our frame­work is mod­er­ate and bal­anced, that it dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween gen­uine To­rah study and those who shirk their duty, and that it helps a large ultra-Ortho­dox pop­u­la­tion go out to work and pro­vide for their chil­dren. But what can you say to some­one who says with­out shame: “Who cares about prin­ci­ples, every­thing is for sale.”

The La­bor Party is no bet­ter. When we voted for the Equal­ity of Na­tional Bur­den Bill they ran out of the Knes­set ple­nary. They sat in a side hall in front of the cam­eras with Shas chair­man Arye Deri while he proudly an­nounced that they are fu­ture coali­tion part­ners. We all saw how that worked out. It’s time some­one in La­bor learned what hap­pens to those who sell out their val­ues again and again, and sells them cheaply.

When I fight this cyn­i­cism, peo­ple tell me that I don’t un­der­stand the po­lit­i­cal game. They’re wrong, I un­der­stand it fully. That’s why I’m so com­mit­ted to chang­ing it. The vic­tory in the High Court is a re­minder to the pub­lic that they have a right and a duty to ex­act a real price from politi­cians who play games with their chil­dren’s lives. As long as politi­cians don’t pay a price, they’ll keep be­hav­ing the same way.

The equal­ity of na­tional bur­den is com­pli­cated to im­ple­ment but the prin­ci­ple be­hind it is sim­ple: The law is for ev­ery­one. Ev­ery­one has the same rights and ev­ery­one has the same re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. My son spent the past two weeks on the north­ern bor­der fac­ing Hezbol­lah as part of a huge IDF ex­er­cise. It can’t be that some­one else’s son is ex­empt from that be­cause his par­ents have a po­lit­i­cal party that pres­sures the prime min­is­ter.

In pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with the ultra-Ortho­dox com­mu­nity I’m con­stantly sur­prised that they un­der­stand – and ex­press real em­pa­thy for – the depth of the hurt caused to the sec­tors of the pub­lic who send their chil­dren to the army to risk their lives, but then see young ultra-Ortho­dox boys re­ceive ex­emp­tions. The same ul­tra­Ortho­dox peo­ple are also sur­prised when I ex­plain to them the real de­tails of the pro­posed frame­work and they dis­cover how dif­fer­ent it is from the pro­pa­ganda in the ul­tra­Ortho­dox me­dia.

But let’s not pre­tend this isn’t a strug­gle over val­ues. IDF ser­vice is a na­tional value (one which doesn’t con­tra­dict To­rah study) and we are fight­ing for the foun­da­tions of Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

It’s time to con­duct a deep and hon­est Is­raeli con­ver­sa­tion on is­sues of re­li­gion and state. We need to dis­cuss the is­sue of Shab­bat, civil is­sues, the sta­tus of the Rab­binate, the role of re­li­gion in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. It’s not an aca­demic dis­cus­sion. It’s ex­plo­sive, sen­si­tive and touches the deep­est part of our iden­tity. That’s why many politi­cians do every­thing to avoid it. It’s easier to sur­ren­der ev­ery time. It buys them some time but it chips away at the sense that we are one nation with one fate.

There is an al­ter­na­tive: to act like a sov­er­eign coun­try, as a coun­try is meant to act. To in­vite all the cit­i­zens to join in an open and brave di­a­logue, and to make clear that in the end no one will get 100% of what they want. Ev­ery­one will need to com­pro­mise. When the ultra-Ortho­dox say they can’t com­pro­mise be­cause “those are their val­ues,” my an­swer is that the sec­u­lar pub­lic also has val­ues and they are no less im­por­tant. That’s why we should sit and find a way to live to­gether.

The equal­ity of na­tional bur­den ef­fort isn’t meant to be a dis­pute with the ultra-Ortho­dox; its goal is to deal with a prob­lem that isn’t go­ing away. Re­spon­si­ble lead­er­ship doesn’t let prob­lems grow with­out tak­ing care of them. It cer­tainly does not de­ceive the pub­lic and sell out its own prin­ci­ples.

If we are des­tined to ar­gue – let’s at least make it about val­ues.

Yair Lapid is chair­man of Yesh Atid.


‘EV­ERY­ONE HAS the same rights and ev­ery­one has the same re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.’

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