Summer here in Israel is the time for Saturday night demonstrations. Most of the time the demonstrations are gatherings looking for a cause rather than a cause inspiring demonstrations. It is just the thing to do on the warm Saturday nights in Tel Aviv. For many years the demonstrations concentrated on the peace process with the Palestinians.
However it has become clear to the vast majority of Israelis that the Palestinians are not interested in any sort of peace process that would accommodate the security or even the existence of a Jewish state of Israel. Thus the peace process can no longer inspire demonstrations or gatherings. This is in spite of the protestations of the hard core Left here in Israel, that the lack of peace with the Arab world is all the fault of Israel and the settlements.
Last summer it appeared that the demonstrators had found an issue that would resonate within the general Israeli public – social and economic equality. But this issue has also petered out with the politicians paying lip service to it and appointing commissions to study it (the price of cottage cheese was temporarily lowered but has started to creep up again) but very little has been truly or basically accomplished on this front.
The fact that agitators and anarchists have used the social equality demonstrations to wreak violence and havoc has seriously dampened any enthusiasm for further popular participation in demonstrations on behalf of this seemingly worthy cause. So this year’s rallying point and issue for demonstrations is one of the favorite ones of Israeli society – bashing the Charedim and forcing them to do military or national service.
Charedi society is to put it mildly not very popular or respected in the general Israeli public. There are many reasons for this, some of them justified by the behavior of many Charedim, but most of them imaginary and unjustified. Nevertheless, Charedi society has never seen fit to engage and enlighten its adversaries regarding any of the core values and lifestyle systems that govern it.
And the fact that it allows itself to be run in a de facto fashion, not by its rabbinic leaders but rather by handlers, politicians and “machers,” only further beclouds and besmirches its image in the eyes of the general Israeli public. Thus, Charedim and service in the army is the natural default issue for Saturday night demonstrations when all other public issues no longer are troubling enough to attract thousands to come out on the street.
But all logic and common sense tells us that bringing the Charedi public into general Israeli society and to achieve its participation in military or national service is an evolutionary process – one that will require time, patience, tolerance, education, compromise and good will on behalf of everyone involved.
Coercion, mandatory prison sentences, fines, etc. are populist solutions that will have no real effect in the real world that we currently inhabit. It is a great populist electioneering issue – equal distribution of national service – but like the social equality issue it will not be solved by government fiat or political bombast.
Last Sunday we commemorated the fast day of the seventeenth of Tammuz – a day of many tragedies in Jewish history. Some of these tragedies were due to outside forces – the breaching of the defensive wall outside Jerusalem, the burning of the Torah by the tyrant, etc. – but some were self-inflicted by the behavior of the Jewish people, such as the shattering of the tablets of stone by Moshe, at the sight of Israel worshipping the Golden Calf.
Even though the “outside” tragedies occurred to us also because of our spiritual shortcomings, at least we can accommodate our thinking to the fact that we have bitter and powerful enemies in the world who sometimes are successful in temporarily prevailing over us. However the self-destructive nature of our inner self-inflicted tragedies can never be rationalized or excused.
Demonizing and coercing an entire large population of Jews into doing what others wish them to do is counter productive and doomed ultimately to failure. Those who danced around the Golden Calf proclaimed: “This is your God, Israel!” They were unwilling to accommodate a different opinion or lifestyle – everyone had to worship the Golden Calf. This led to civil war, thousands of Jewish deaths and the destruction of their precious Golden Calf itself.
It is ironic that those, here in Israel, who continually rail against religious coercion now are in the vanguard of enforcing real coercion against others. Only a gradual and tolerant program of integration over time will inexorably lead to a solution to this most nettlesome problem. Summer night demonstrations won’t accomplish much in this area.