Meretz Symposium Day 5: Starry-eyed

Will Stav Shaffir betray her values in order to seduce the Israeli electorate?

I’ll keep this one extremely short, since I have a pretty intense migrane tonight.

Today we met Shachar Ilan from Hiddush, a publication dedicated to promoting religious pluralism. Shachar is a numbers guy, who religiously tracks the religious media. He’s full of terrifying statistics, such as:

  • The Haredim make up about 9-10% of the Israeli Jewish population.
  • 60% of Haredi men are studying instead of working.
  • 60% of Haredi women work (mostly part-time).
  • 10-12 billion shekels (3-4 billion dollars) are given to the Haredi.

The Haredi do not serve in the IDF, have incredibly large families, and receive subsidies from the government for being religious. Shachar believes that the main problem in Israel, which leads to all the other problems (including the occupation), is that secular Israelis have failed in redefining secular Jewish Zionism. The Haredi like to call themselves a minority, but politically, they hold an inordinate amount of power. Netanyahu could leave them out of his coalition, and he knows he could because he cut the child allowance (which basically translates into the government subsidizing large families) when he was finance minister. However, this cutting of the child allowance actually only affected the Arab population, rather than the Haredi.

Even if he wanted to, it is difficult for a Haredi man to find a job because Israel is financing an education system without a core curriculum. No other Western state finances non-core curriculum schools. But the girls are learning secular subjects since they are expected to support their families.

Shachar’s solutions are the following:

  1. Israel needs to decide that it will only finance a core curriculum education system.
  2. There must be a duty to serve law. Not necessarily in the IDF, and the IDF will decide whether or not they need the Haredi on an individual basis. If not, he/she will serve in social welfare programs.
  3. Cut the budget of the Yeshivot.
  4. Most of the finances for housing is designed for the Haredim. Big families are subsidized. So Israel should only support the people who are actually trying to work. (This one sounds a lot like the Republican argument against social welfare programs, but trust me, it’s different in this case).

The biggest fear of the Israeli, Shachar says, is to be a frayer, which doesn’t have an exact translation in English, but for lack of better word, it translates to a sucker. Israelis need to learn how to be vulnerable. Essentially, Israelis are narcissists. Exactly my diagnosis.

Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders in the social protests of last summer, is running in the Labor party. Our group is extremely wary of this move, since the Labor party has become completely right-wing. We’ll see if she sticks to her values, unlike her party’s leader, Shelly Yachimovich.

Yeah, that’s right. I did that awkward thing where I asked my hero to get a picture with him.

Noam Sheizaf is a lot nerdier than I thought, and said everything I thought he’d say. The media is a non-profit animal, and +972 magazine is committed to human rights and democracy, ending the occupation, and no censorship. And it wouldn’t share the mic with, for instance, a settler, just to provide an equal conversation. What drives his political involvement is the Palestinian issue and the occupation. In that sense, Obama did more harm than good because he threatened Netanyahu with an empty gun. They say that every time he goes down in the polls, he visits the US in order to gain more public support. He said, “We should not let [the Haredi and the Israeli government] decide what is Jewish.” And on BDS, he agreed with most of the speakers in saying that it would not be effective, “But I do not dictate to the Palestinians how to resist the occupation. Generally, I support anything non-violent.” What a baller.

We also saw met the founder of Marak Levinsky, a completely self-sufficient NGO that provides food for the Sudanese and other refugees in Tel Aviv. Even within the non-occupied territories, there are people living in Israel as if they are living in the Global South.

Meretz USA 2012 delegation

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