Is Rise of Jewish Fundamentalism Endangering Israeli Democracy?

Authors See Conflict Between Haredim and Secular World

Clear and Present Danger: Yuval Elizur and Lawrence Malkin predict dire consequences as a result of the struggle for power between the sectarian and the secular.
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Clear and Present Danger: Yuval Elizur and Lawrence Malkin predict dire consequences as a result of the struggle for power between the sectarian and the secular.

By Jerome Chanes

Published April 22, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
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“The War Within” develops a historical and sociological context for the narrative of Haredi outsize influence (the sectarians are a minority in Israel) over public policy, beginning with David Ben-Gurion’s status quo ante deal with the religious parties in 1948, guaranteeing them control over matters of religion. (Incisive indeed is the comment of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Aviezer Ravitzky that each side, religious and secular, shared a common but erroneous conviction that it owned the future, and the other side would disappear!)

The context sets the stage for seriatim chapters that address in detail the crisis in education in the sectarian communities; the employment nightmare, which has led a substantial percentage of the population to opt out of the labor force; discrimination against women, and — very much in the news — the question of draft deferments for Haredi men studying in yeshivas.

Elizur and Malkin, always and well, develop a historical context for each question discussed. And the discussions go beyond the usual palaver: “Oh, what do you expect from those Orthodox obscurantists?!”

Especially compelling are the two chapters on the question of exemption for yeshiva students from requisite military service in the Israel Defense Forces. What was originally a temporary exemption granted in 1948 to 400 yeshiva students has become a national problem as some half a million sectarian youth do not serve in the army. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the students do not work, because taking a job would mean forfeiture of their exemptions.

Elizur and Malkin trace the story from 1948 and earlier, through the political deals made over the decades with Orthodox parties and power centers, as the sectarian Orthodox community exploded demographically, to the expiration in 2012 of the Tal Law, which extended on a temporary basis the exemptions.

The obverse side of the sectarian/IDF story is that of those Orthodox who do serve in the army. “The War Within” rehearses this narrative in the context of how the Religious Zionism of an erstwhile centrist and responsible Mizrachi/National Religious Party was hijacked by Religious Zionist extremists who make common cause in some areas with Haredi sectarians.


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