Wednesday, August 15, 2007

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The Terrified Israeli Politician

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

What makes an Israeli politician quake in their boots? It's not the possibility of war (G-d forbid). It's not the possibility of terrorism (G-d forbid). It's not the possibility of all their friendly appointments (nudge nudge wink wink) coming out. It's not the possibility of losing an election (which isn't a real possibility as the same people always return).

None of those worry the Israeli politician.

What does the Israeli politician fear more than anything? ... ... The religious Jew, G-d, Torah, and Emunah (faith). That's what keeps the Israeli politician up at nights.

So you're thinking, I've got to be kidding. Either that or I've got a giant ego with overblown self importance (that may be the case, but isn't the point here).

Lets be clear, the Israeli political system has not included a religious Jew from day 1. Ever. Oh, there's been a few fellows with kippah's (yamulkah's) in the Knesset, but there has been no representation of the Torah position. Initially, the numbers of observant Jews in Israel was small, just as in the US in the 50's. The religious were shoved off in the corner, and bought off to keep quiet and out of the way with basic yeshiva funding, army exemptions for Torah learning, and a few national nods towards Judaism (Shabbat as the day off, a national rabbinut and religious controlled kosher standards...what's commonly referred to as the "Religious Status Quo".) As a small group, they were fine with this as the best they could reasonably expect, and the political system felt good about itself for taking care of their poor foolish ignorant impoverished silly backward cousins.

And that was fine by the political system, as in a generation or so, it would all fade away. And when it looked like it might not, for example when the Moroccan Jewish population arrived in mass religious numbers (mid-50's), the government took steps to make sure to break that nasty religious stranglehold (separating children from their parents and sending them to secular indoctrination schools, where they were punished for any religious observant activity).

Maan Tracht, Got Lacht, men plan, G-d laughs. The dedicated struggled, the yeshiva system of the past was rebuilt, financed by the guilt ridden American Jew who, as he assimilated and lived his physically rich lifestyle assuaged his conscience with checks written to those yeshivas (and indeed earned much merit by doing so!) As Israeli living conditions improved and secular Western culture began penetrating, the secular decreased family size. Not so the religious, improved health care and nutrition (and blessings from Hashem) meant increased family size, more births and lower mortality...

Fast forward 30 years. As much as the government has done, some (Hashem Yerachem) successful, the religious population has climbed to 15%. Ah, but the political establishment has the reigns of power, they put in place a plan to keep it. First, divide... They note to the Sephardim, those religious Jews from non-European countries, that the Ashkenazim (those from European countries) haven't tried to help them from the ravages of the government, so they offer to fund the creation of their own political party, and with it's support promise funding of their own school system to recover their unique culture. Second, they played on the difference in position the state, and again with offers of support and establishment, cajoled the 'national religious' into their own party system. Divided 3 ways and funded 3 ways, not only was that political threat diluted, it could also be played against itself!

But it wasn't enough. The long term threat was real, demographics is a dangerous game. Time for round two... Immigration, Aliyah. The Law of Return was written to mirror the Nazi law, if a grandparent is a Jew, the whole family is (even if it's the grandfather). All those atheists with Jewish heritage from the Soviet Union would do quite well, and the Sochnut Yehudit (the Jewish Agency) set about creating the parameters to entice as many as possible. "If any family member or ancestor was Jewish, come to Israel and have a better life!" They advertised, they opened preparation and training centers, they gave enormous benefits ($100,000 worth of benefits per immigrant), and it worked. They drew in almost 1 million. Estimates vary, in the beginning the majority were Jewish, 70% or so, and many maintained some family tradition or heritage of Jewishness that drew them to want to come to Israel. Later the numbers fell, 55% Jewish, with a tenuous connection with their heritage. In the later years of the Soviet aliyah, 35% were Jewish, and the majority had no connection with a Jewish heritage, rather Israel was a gateway to the West and to economic opportunities unavailable in the former Eastern bloc.

Fast forward 15 years. Some of the Russian aliyah actually became, gasp, religious. The secular birthrate continues to fall, the religious birthrate continues to grow! The Russian aliyah wound down, and the Sochnut has been unsuccessful in finding any other large reservoir of non-religious Jews or qualifying non-Jews (they've tried though, especially in South America, and their latest attempt is a major campaign in US Reform synagogues). The religious percentage is growing, by vote they hold 25% of the Knesset, and in MANY cities in Israel, the school age population is 50% religious.

And that's what terrifies the Israeli politician. Take a look at the latest Likud election. The religious candidate won 27% of the vote! And the establishment response...

Sources close to Netanyahu said that he plans to work towards neutralizing Feiglin's power within the party, including possibly removing him altogether.

"As a democratic movement," a Netanyahu aide said, "the Likud must find ways to protect itself. There is no choice other than to find ways to stop this phenomenon [of Feiglin]."
- A7

There you have it..."there is no choice other than to find ways to stop this phenomenon" ... of religious people existing and, gasp, voting!!!

The Israeli politician has no greater fear than your child learning in Yeshiva! Or you, standing by the words of Torah.

Truly, they are right! Hakol Kol Yaakov, the voice is the voice of Jacob, our strength is our voices raised in prayer to HaKodesh Barach Hu, the Holy One, Blessed be He. (The Medrash explains the power of Yaakov lies in his voice. The voice is that of Yaakov. Esav’s power, however, lies in his hands.) As Yaakov's voice grows, their power weakens.... And they know it.

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