Monday, February 6, 2012

Come, Let Us Outsmart Them

Had anyone other than a Jew penned what I am about to write he might be referred to as an anti-Semite. There may even be people out there, referring to this essay as anti-Semitic. For a long time, I have been living with fear that the day will come when Israel will cease to be the country that I and so many millions of others know, admire and love. I have feared for a long time that the Zionist songs of the chalutzim (founding pioneers), reflecting an ethos and vision that I was weaned on would be forgotten by a new holy but indifferent generation, recalled perhaps by only a few on Yom Ha’atzmaut. I fear that eventually Israel and her citizens will morph back and regress into the “old shtetl Jew,” in spite of all those heroes that came before and dreamt of forging a new Jew, a strong, powerful and proud Israeli. I fear that all the brilliance of the “genius hayehudi” that has made universal strides in the sciences, technology, medicine, history, literature and culture contributing to the global wealth of knowledge unparalleled in human history, captivating the imagination, envy of so many, would unravel, leaving the “genius hayehudi” to degenerate and wallow in the morass of yeshiva pilpulism originally cultivated for and by Diaspora Jews with little hope for a better future. I fear that the strides Israel has made in advancing minority and women’s rights will be set back generations because of the occluded political atmosphere which has all but destroyed the matrix upon which the Zionist founding fathers dreamt. I fear that the Israeli urban centers, those galactic intellectual loci teeming and seething with intellectual rigor will retrograde back into the dessert sands upon which it was originally built together with the artificially induced fertile and fecund lands that have become the eighth wonder of the agricultural world conceptualized, designed and engineered by Israeli scientists and farmers.

All these nightmares are coming to fruition in my own lifetime, before our very eyes here and in Israel giving new meaning to the words uttered by the Egyptian leadership when they commented in Exodus 1: 8-10:

“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Joseph. He said to his people ‘behold the people, the Children of Israel, are more numerous and stronger than we. Come let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that war will occur, it too, may join our enemies and wage war against us and go up from the land.’”

The traditional understanding of the text takes on new meaning when we substitute the Children of Israel for haredim. I feel today the way the ancient Egyptians felt when reviewing their security concerns. Fear that in numbers the Children of Israel would alter the way in which the Egyptians lived. Fear of numbers was at the heart of their concern that they are of a different culture and would ultimately seek to impose their values on the Egyptians. The Egyptian response was probably the expected response. It was one of self--preservation. Ultimately, the Children of Israel left Egypt and the Egyptians were able to get back to their lives without fearing a takeover by strangers. In our time it is the haredim that are proliferating exponentially creating demographic facts on the ground that will in a few short years redefine the nature and culture of the State of Israel. Democratic values will be replaced by halacha where things like tzinius and shemirat mitzvot will be the standard, expected normative behavior of every good citizen. Israeli democracy according to Benny Katzover (veteran settler leader) should be dismantled and in its place a halachic state should be established. Katzover, the past head of the NGO (non—government organization) Committee of Samaria Settlers believes that Israeli democracy is in constant conflict with its Jewish identity, thus it needs to be dismantled.

True it is a stretch to compare the situation of the Children of Israel in Egypt to that of the haredim in Israel. The Children of Israel were foreigners, outsiders in a host country. The haredim in Israel are citizens of Israel and are Jewish. However, it could be said that even though they are Jewish and citizens of Israel, they are still outsiders, rejecting the prevailing culture, and whose loyalty is not to Israel but to the god of Jewish history.

If the State of Israel does nothing, the haredi community will burst at the seams leaving a minority of traditional / secular Israelis who will have no place with Israeli society, or what’s left of it. According to current statistical extrapolations, by 2049 the haredi community will make up 40% of the population. That will be enough to vote in a haredi majority in the Knesset and to vote out democracy replacing it with a halachic system of governance. To put one’s head in the sand reasoning that by then the haredi community will have moderated and integrated themselves into Israeli society and cultural values is ridiculous. If the haredi value system and state of mind survived and even persevered through the enlightenment and haskala why would anyone assume that the benign and benevolent Israeli culture will be able to do what has never been done before?

Perhaps the Egyptians 5000 years ago knew something we have yet to learn and perhaps the only answer is to learn from history. In a speech this past week at the Herzliya Conference the Governor of Israel’s Central Bank, Stanley Fischer expressed deep concern for the proliferation of haredim and their drain on society. His message regarding this troublesome community was to stop having so many babies and start working. Rather than proposing to “outsmart them” conquering them with fear and force he suggested a wiser course “come let us put them to work” with the conviction that a path to productive lives will be mutually beneficial.