Abandon the Rhetoric of Tomorrow

by Aner Shalev, cross-posted with permission from HaAretz

"Tomorrow's Starting Now", painting by Sarah Hinckley

"Tomorrow's Starting Now", oil on canvas, by Sarah Hinckley

What do the following statements have in common? The Tal Law (which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer national service ) should be extended by five years. The Tal Law should be extended by one year. Israel will present its position on borders at the end of the three months given by the European Union. Israel will present its position on borders after security arrangements are agreed by both sides. Medical residents will receive their full wage increment in nine years. Yes, all of these statements involve the future.

In our post-ideological times, it’s great to be exposed to a powerful ideological dispute, just like in the good old days. What’s more, this dispute involved major figures, the prime minister and the defense minister, on a subject of the highest principle – whether to extend the Tal Law by five years or one year. At this point, the prime minister dropped his maximalist position and preferred to postpone any discussion on the matter.

The Tal Law is but one of a long series of benefits the government grants to the ultra-Orthodox. As well as this sweeping exemption from military service, enshrined in an infuriating law passed by the government of Ehud Barak, Haredi schools are exempt from the core curriculum. Then there are the cash benefits: allowances to yeshiva students and children, welfare payments, affordable housing, huge discounts in municipal taxes, and more.

The state’s subsidizing of the ultra-Orthodox exacts a huge cost from us, an issue that has been widely discussed. It is a loss that grows with the ever-increasing Haredi population, and pushes Israel closer to the abyss. What is less known, but no less important, is that the Haredi population also pays a heavy price for the reverse discrimination it receives from the authorities.

A comparison of the socioeconomic status of ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel and New York is illuminating in this regard, and fascinating conclusions may be drawn. Haredi groups are not offered special subsidies or easier conditions there, and yet the ultra-Orthodox population is flourishing. While most Haredim in Israel – despite, or perhaps because of, the benefits heaped upon them – suffer poverty and many other hardships.

Indeed, the lack of a core curriculum severely impairs the wage-earning abilities of those wishing to work, and the various allowances encourage dependence, passiveness, unemployment and increased numbers of children, all of which prevent Haredim in Israel from thriving like their brethren in New York. Vocational training in certain fields, which military service sometimes provides, is also denied to most Haredim.

The abnormal relations between the state and the Haredi population is damaging to both sides. And yet it seems that this discrimination, harmful to all, will go on; that the Haredim will never enter the job market despite the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee (which suggested new incentives and training programs ); and that the Tal Law will be extended repeatedly, with the only ideological conflict being whether to extend it every year or once every five years.

Similarly, Israel will probably never present the Palestinians with its position on borders, because prior agreement on security arrangements will never be attained, or the date for drawing the proposed borderline will be postponed ad nauseam. The future is politicians’ warm, safe shelter.

In his book “The Invention of Tomorrow,” Daniel S. Milo argues that the concept of the future is what makes the human race unique and defines it. Other species have no such concept; they live only in the present. The invention of the future has allowed the human race to develop quickly and take control of the world, but it is also a source of humanity’s suffering and unsolved problems.

Our politicians contribute generously to this suffering. What differentiates them from the rest of the population, and puts them at the top of the evolutionary chain, is that they, almost exclusively, use the future tense. Therefore, they will never solve our problems. Without change now, we have no future.

Aner Shalev is a math professor, novelist, and a social commentator.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Calls to Action | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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