Fifty years ago, a poor, ill-armed society prepared for certain war with hope and determination. Today a prosperous and powerful Israel confronts the future with profound malaise. Few euphoric celebrants will be grabbing strangers on the streets of Tel Aviv this Independence Day to dance thehora.
Above all, we are beset by a sense of deep divisions within our society. The cultural wars over Tkuma only emphasize how the once regnant Zionist mythology no longer provides a basis for social cohesion.
Once external threats fostered national unity. Today we cannot even agree as to whether former antagonists were our enemies or our victims, whether our cause was just or we constitute just another chapter in European colonialism.
The growing sense of deep societal cleavage gives rise to the temptation to base a new consensus around an enemy everyone can hate. (The traditional choice - the Jews - obviously won't do.) Though the haredim are a poor substitute for our Arab neighbors - at most a minor irritant, not a threat to life or limb - they appear the best we can do at present.
A recent Supreme Court decision provides a classic illustration of how haredim are delegitimized in order to preserve the illusion that a Zionist consensus still exists. In that case, the court determined that haredi youth groups are not Zionist enough to receive Education Ministry funding.
Bnos Agudat Israel, the largest of the haredi youth groups, has received funding - albeit minimal -from the Education Ministry for over thirty years. In 1996, the Education Ministry completed a rigorous survey of youth groups to determine the number of members in each. That survey - from which Bnos was originally excluded - revealed that Bnos was entitled to at least four times more money than it was then receiving, and that the two largest youth groups - Scouts and HaNoar HaOved v'Halomed - were receiving much more than they should have.
Bnos's very success in the ministry's survey sealed its fate. Almost simultaneously with the startling results, the ministry began drafting new funding criteria requiring, inter alia, that the groups 'educate their members in the world view of Judaism and Zionism, . . ., and to view army service or parallel national service as an obligatory value."
Then-attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair objected to the proposed criteria, and agreed to their promulgation only after attaching his stipulation that the regulations permit funding of Arab youth groups advocating the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, as long as they recognize the sovereignty of the Knesset. Typically, he made no mention of haredim.
After promulgation of the new regulations, the largest secular youth groups brought suit in the Supreme Court challenging the ministry's continued funding of haredi youth groups. And last month, the Supreme Court ordered the haredi groups to return funds already disbursed to them by the ministry and those funds to be apportioned among the remaining youth groups.
NOW clearly youth groups, haredi or otherwise, have no entitlement to state funding. Where I come from youth groups sell cookies door to door to support themselves. But if the state chooses to fund ideological youth groups, it has no business distinguishing between the content of their ideologies, as long as they advocate no illegality. The American Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down statutes that attempt to condition government benefits on the expression of opinion or belief.
Yet the Supreme Court here, usually so eager to import 'progressive' views from abroad, did not address or even notice the glaring government infringement on free speech in the ministry's regulations. Neither, apparently, did plaintiff's attorney Avigdor Feldman, one of the founders of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, or Meretz Knesset member Ran Cohen, who helped draft the ministry regulations. (For Israeli civil libertarians, freedom from religion and the religious seems to be the highest civil liberty.)
The court's decision was determined, not by principle, but by the identity of the parties. Thus the same court which recently created out of whole cloth an unprecedented 'right" for homosexual teenagers to have their lifestyle celebrated on state television, ignored the rights of haredi teenagers to express their beliefs. Homosexual youth are a favored minority; haredi youth are not.
In his elegantly written opinion, filled with scorn for the haredi groups and the Education Ministry supervisors, Justice Mishael Cheshin assumed that the definition of Zionism today is still so clear-cut that he could determine from his own general knowledge that haredim are anti-Zionists and the other groups are good Zionists. Even a post-Zionist court still knows an anti-Zionist when it sees one. Evidence that chareidi youth groups stress love of the Land and that its graduates are far less likely to join the Israeli diaspora would have been irrelevant for Cheshin.
Nor did he inquire as to whether the compliance of secular groups with the ministry regulations was subject to any closer scrutiny by the ministry than was that of haredi groups before ordering the returned monies to be disbursed to the secular groups. How, for instance, do those groups inculcate the value as Israel as a Jewish state - another of the ministry's requirements?
Actually that last question is no problem for a court that has long since determined that the term 'Jewish state,' enshrined in the Basic Laws, is a meaningless superfluity, synonymous with 'democratic state." Still, one wonders, how Arab Scout troops are imbued with the values of Zionism or army service.
Interesting how a court usually so zealous in the protection of minorities, in this instance, led the baying hounds.