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Monday, March 24, 2008

Wishful thinking: Shinui is coming back

Shinui, the Gold Standard and the Groush with the hole are not coming back.
Shinui is coming back
Ultra-Orthodox arrogance, financial extortion to prompt return of secular party

Yair Lapid
Published:  03.23.08, 16:55 / Israel Opinion
Listen to an expert: Shinui is coming back. It will be called by another name, and it may take a few months before you hear about it. The party's makeup will be different, and my father, former Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid, will only watch it from the sidelines this time around with a small grin, but it's coming back. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai is bringing it back.

I saw the establishment of Shinui from up close. How close? I was there with the chicken soup at my parents' kitchen. My mother and I would sit there together and listen to the people yelling in the living room.
It was a fascinating process. There I learned that the only thing that prompts a group of people to unite around an idea is anger. Hope and love are noble feelings, but they serve to establish youth groups. Only angry people are willing to go out in the middle of the night to post stickers. Only angry people are willing to waste their time, money, and best years in order to fight for an idea. In a deeper sense, only angry people can face the fact that other people will be angry at them in return.

I am familiar with all the learned explanations about Shinui falling apart because of managerial problems or lack of attention to smalltime politics, but I was there, and excuse me if I say that those are only the small details that make up a much larger truth: Shinui fell apart because it succeeded too much.

Just like immigrant parties like the one led by Natan Sharansky, Shinui's success made it needless. The ultra-Orthodox learned their lesson. They realized that it is possible to form governments around here without them, that the secular public is fed up with their endless financial extortion, and that those who do not serve in the army have no right to scream that we mustn't leave Gaza. More then anything, they learned a lesson in modesty.

The moment the Orthodox signaled to us that they got the hint, we were happy to put away our banners. The secular public in Israel – and I know you won't believe me, but Shinui's founders are included in this group – does not hate the Orthodox. Our Jewish instinct does not allow us to hate people with white beards who study the Torah. If they don't live at our expense, there is no reason to give them a tough time.

Getting angry at ourselves
In the two years that passed since Shas returned to the government's warm embrace it appeared that they got the message. They treated the feelings of the seculars cautiously, almost with anxiety. Even their attempts to regain control of the budget were made with great silence. Yet then came the last few months:
    * The Ministry of Religious Affairs was reestablished.
    * A total of NIS 475 million (roughly $150 million) that was not part of the budget was earmarked for yeshivas.
    * Before that, NIS 290 million (roughly $80 million) within the budget were earmarked for yeshivas.
    * A total of NIS 8.6 million (roughly $2.5 million) was transferred for the purpose of covering the debts of religious councils, without a monitoring process.
    * Shas' Benizri charged gays were at fault for earthquakes, while fellow party member Nissim Zeev said they should be taken care of "like we take care of bird flu."
    * An attempt was undertaken to expand the powers of rabbinical courts.
    * The "Internet censorship bill" passed its first reading.
    * The regulations for appointing city rabbis were changed in order to appoint Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's son as Jerusalem's chief rabbi.
    * Shas announced that it plans to reintroduce the law that provides larger child allowances starting with the 5th child. Here we are talking about billions, not millions.

Should I continue? Because there is plenty more. Not only the money is starting to flow back into Orthodox pocked, but also the arrogance. They overcame the trauma. We again look to them like a bunch of fools who would always do what they are told if they are just pressed a little.

Are you already starting to get annoyed?

The only reason we didn't notice immediately what was going on is that we are still blinking a little because of the Qassam smoke and tears in the wake of the funerals. In any other junction, one that would be less packed with security incidents, the amazing series of actions noted above would already prompt angry people to gather at crowded living rooms. "We need to do something," one person would say after the third coffee. "So why aren't we doing it?" another one will ask, just like the last time.

It will start off small, just like it did last time. At first we will get angry at them. Then we will get angry at ourselves, which is a much more dangerous kind of anger: We'll be angry at Olmert for transferring the money, at Labor's Isaac Herzog for initiating the rabbinical courts' legislation, at Tzipi Livni who voted in favor of reestablishing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and at Danny Yatom, who backed the censorship bill.
Because this is what is most infuriating: The speed with which Israeli politics has gone back to suck up to the Orthodox. So listen to a man with experience: The new Shinui will not be established – it has already been established. Just like the last time, nobody noticed it until it made it to the Knesset. Only this time around, my mom won't have to make chicken soup for them. 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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