Sunday, November 07, 2004

The no's to the right

There is no tradition of democracy among Chassidim. The idea that a leader should be chosen by the led is alien to us, who have had their leaders chosen by God himself since time immemorial. With a deity on high running the day-to-day show, voting is seen as a time for settling scores and paying debts. The recent presidential election in the states can be better understood with that background. The Jewish community voted largely for Kerry in the belief that their future would be rosier under the Democrats and that Israel would not unduly suffer from an embrace somewhat less close. The Chassidic community, their future safe in competent hands, voted for Bush in gratitude for what he did for Israel in the last term.

In Israel itself last week a similar attitude could be observed. The Charedi block in the Knesset, the only constituency that consistently refuses to shoulder any responsibility for the engagement in Gaza, voted unanimously against the disengagement. This despite it being common knowledge that at least one of the leaders has been vocal in his opposition to the continued occupation where lives are put at risk. Rumour has it that on the eve of the vote one of the older Rabbis called and cajoled or coerced him into line. I do not dare to presume what was promised or threatened in that phone-call but I do know that any last vestige of integrity the Charedi block had was scuppered by that vote despite a two page spread in a newspaper explaining why the no really meant yes.

How the Tzaddikate decided that it was in the interest of Charedism that the troops remain in Gaza is beyond me. The only excuse that I can get from anybody is that it was a punishment for Sharon for allowing the family allowance to large families to be cut (a reduction that was especially painful to the large charedi family). Like many over the hill personalities, the block try with grand gestures, to make up for their total lack of influence where it really matters. As it happens the vote was won by a wide enough margin to make the Charedi ‘no’ a minor irritation. Nobody who knows anything about Charedi politics doubts for one moment however, that if the vote had been close and the God-fearing vote had counted, it would not have been ageing rabbis threatening and cajoling but ageing politicians with even bigger budgets and even bigger sticks.

The result would have been the same because the actual issue of whether the Torah would be for or against staying in Gaza has never been discussed. The question discussed was, do we punish Sharon by abstaining or by voting no? The fact that one of the team actually had an opinion on the core question was not allowed to interfere with the real issues at hand.

Charedim do not participate in the running of the state. Or so we are told. There are no right and left wing charedi parties because we are supposed to be voting for single-issue parties. The mandate these parties have is to ensure that our rights are vigorously defended in the face of a society that sees us as parasites and leeches. The latter proves that they have not done their job at all well, at least from a PR point of view, while the mandate does not cover voting on issues as fundamental as the disengagement plan at all, much less doing so with the cavalier disrespect of a students union on pot.

These people are supposed to be representing Charedi Judaism, which includes me. I have no option of voting them out of office any more than I have an option of changing the American president. But I can make my voice heard and that I am doing.

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