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An Inevitable New Contract between the Ultra-Orthodox Community and the State of Israel
Residents of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood – few of them in masks – gather in a street on September 27 just prior to the start of Yom Kippur. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

An Inevitable New Contract between the Ultra-Orthodox Community and the State of Israel

Maariv, Israel, October 15

There is a direct link between the ultra-Orthodox community’s refusal to enlist in the IDF and its separatism and lack of solidarity when it comes to the war on the coronavirus. Opposition to compulsory military service has long been one of the defining features of the ultra-Orthodox parties. For years, the issue of burden-sharing in Israeli society has been the political ticket that has both brought together political coalitions and dissolved them. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has proved that the ultra-Orthodox community does not view itself as part of Israeli society. Something bad is happening to this community. During the first wave of the pandemic, it seemed like all Israelis were in this boat together. The second wave, however, totally shattered this illusion. The ultra-Orthodox community separated itself from the rest of society and refused to abide by government orders and restrictions. Mass funerals, the opening of places of worship and the resumption of the school year are only some of the steps that the ultra-Orthodox community took, despite government’s pleas. The community showed complete disregard for state laws and institutions. It should be said that the ultra-Orthodox sector is not a monolith. There are certainly those with more willingness to abide by government orders than others within the community. However, these are marginalized voices that don’t receive the attention of the masses. Yes, there are members of the ultra-Orthodox community who adhere to the coronavirus guidelines, participate in the labor market, pay taxes, serve in the army and become part of the fabric of Israeli society. But it is difficult to argue with the data: The proportion of those infected with COVID-19 in the ultra-Orthodox community is immeasurably larger than its relative share of the population. To observers of Israeli politics, this comes as no surprise. Political considerations mingled with a sincere desire to take into account the special needs of the ultra-Orthodox have led to the repeated surrender of consecutive Israeli governments to the whims of the community. Its representatives in parliament have mastered the art of leveraging their power to gain special treatment and exemptions that other groups can only dream of. But the blatant, public disregard of rules and regulations during recent months has managed to anger the general public in a way that is difficult to contain. Before claiming that these are prejudices and stereotypes, it is important to clarify that the criticism of what is happening in the ultra-Orthodox sector is complex and in no way stems from ultra-Orthodox hatred. Yet it must be acknowledged that Israeli society will not be able to bear on its back for long periods of time those communities that oppose the state’s very existence. The data speaks for itself: Ultra-Orthodox cities are among the poorest. Their employment rates are the lowest and, accordingly, the earning capacity and payment of taxes there is minimal. The widespread morbidity has sharpened the understanding that, in Israel, different population groups cannot live in glorious segregation behind walls and in separate cantons. The reality of a state-within-a-state may serve some politicians with narrow interests, but it charges a heavy price from all the citizens of the state. After COVID-19 is long gone from our lives, there will be no escape from the new reality that has emerged between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society. The implications will stay with us for years to come. – Orit Lavie-Nashiel (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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