Monday, April 2, 2012

Israel's Ultra-Orthodox

“Pappy” loved to sing in Sunday School. One of his favorite songs ends with the refrain, “Jesus love me, Jesus loves even me." However, Pappy, week after week stood up and sang at the top of his voice, “Jesus loves me. Jesus loves ONLY me.”

When it is sung by a senile old man, it is humorous. When it is lived out by fanatical settlers, it is serious. The ultra-Orthodox settlers are convinced that they are the only ones loved by God, the only ones God wants to live on the land. No body else belongs there. They see their task of settling Jews in the occupied territories as commanded by a God who “loves only me.”

This “me only” theology creates havoc not only for the Palestinians whose land, water and crops are stolen, these ultra-Orthodox are threatening the stability of Israel itself. Ronald Krebs, professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, writes:

Subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox are one of the reasons that the overall tax burden on Israel’s citizens is high, helping propel a slow exodus of largely secular Jewish elites from the country. In recent years, Israel has suffered from a brain drain, in which large numbers of its most talented citizens have gone abroad to complete advanced degrees and have not returned.[1]

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that between 1990 and 2009, 260,000 more Israelis left the country than returned.[2] It’s easy to see why.

Under the pressure of boycott campaigns, a stream of international investigations into Israel’s military conduct, potential lawsuits in foreign courts against Israeli soldiers and officials for alleged human rights violations, the Palestinian quest for statehood at the UN, and deteriorating relations with Egypt and Turkey, Israelis have not felt this alone and embittered for a generation.[3]

My Republican friends detest the idea that the government might subsidize welfare recipients who “work the system.” Yet, they support Israel’s hand outs to non working ultra-Orthodox families who do nothing but study Torah and justify Israel’s theft of Palestine. The burden on Israel’s economy is immense even though much of that growing welfare is passed along to the US taxpayer.

The number of ultra-Orthodox in Israel is 470,000[4] and estimated to double in the next twenty years. Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel said, “We cannot have an ever-increasing proportion of the population continuing to not go to work. Without a change now, within ten years the situation will be a catastrophe.”[5]

But, that is not the worst of it. I wonder what the parents of our young men and women who are being prepared to go to war with Iran would think if they knew that some 50,000 military aged ultra-Orthodox men are excused from military service in Israel.

In fact, according to Gershom Gorenberg, Israel is in trouble:

By keeping the territories it occupied in the Six Day War, Israel has crippled its democracy and the rule of law. The unholy ties between state, settlements, and synagogue have promoted a new brand of extremism, transforming Judaism from a humanistic to a militant faith. And the religious right is rapidly gaining power within the Israeli army, with catastrophic consequences. In order to save itself, Israel must end the occupation, separate state from religion, and create a new civil Israeli identity that can be shared by Jews and Arabs.[6]

It will not be easy. Even if the government ordered a withdrawal from the West Bank tomorrow, the military cannot count on its officers to carry out its orders to leave.

Israel has too many ultra-Orthodox singing, Yahweh loves me. Yahweh loves ONLY me.

Thomas Are
April 2, 2012

[1] Ronald Krebs, Israel’s Bunker Mentality, Foreign Affairs, November 2011., p.17
[2] Ibid. p17.
[3] Ibid. p. 13.
[4] Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking of Israel, (HarperCollins, 2011). p. 177.
[5] Ronald Krebs, Israel’s Bunker Mentality, Foreign Affairs, November 2011. p. 16.
[6] Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking of Israel, (HarperCollins, 2011). Front jacket cover.