It is the season of broken illusions for the chareidi world, including the illusion that there exists some natural affinity between the Likud and the chareidi world. For too long we have lived in a time warp in which it is still 1977, Menachem Begin is still prime minister, peppering his speeches with ``Im yirze Hashem," and the typical Likud voter is a traditional stallowner in Machane Yehuda.
For two decades already we have been swapping stories about the warm spot in Prime Minister Sharon’s heart for religion, and convinced ourselves that he really believes that yeshiva bochurim are the Israel’s secret defense weapon.
Well, wake up time is upon us. Likud is filled with the same ambitious young men and women as the left-wing party. Omri, Gidon Saar, and Eyal Arad are products of the same education as their Labor counterparts, and know and care as much about Judaism as the latter. Chareidi coalition negotiators have been completely taken aback by the fervor of the anti-chareidi line taken by the young Likud negotiators, Saar and Arad.
Since his sweeping election victory, Prime Minister Sharon has not had the time of day for the chareidim, certainly not one encouraging word. Not content with what is inevitable given the economic situation – i.e., serious cuts in child support payments – he has taken pains at every opportunity to stress the anti-chareidi aspects of his agenda: drastic cuts in budgets for the yeshivos, dismantling of the Religions Ministry and religious councils (a step that we ourselves might have pushed years ago if we ever acted with a bit of foresight), and repeal of the Tal Law, which he himself pushed through in the previous Knesset.
In addition, Sharon has vowed to pass a written constitution that will dramatically increase the power of the Supreme Court. Gidon Saar, whom Sharon appointed to head the Likud Knesset delegation and to conduct coalition negotiations, has been an outspoken opponent of any changes in the process of judicial selection.
From the first, Sharon made clear that Shinui was his preferred coalition partner, and most of the efforts of coalition negotiators so far have been devoted to bringing Shinui into the government. He assigned erstwhile chareidi ``ally" Ehud Olmert to supervise the negotiations between Shinui and the NRP, whose neophyte leader Effi Eitam increasingly reminds one of someone who having had a wallet filled with $10,000 picked from his pocket boasts of tricking the pickpocket by leaving $100 in another pocket.
None of Sharon’s steps proves that he has any special animus for the chareidim, just that he bears us no special love. Each of these steps is part of a well-conceived political strategy. Israeli prime ministers traditionally find themselves yanked around by a host of coalition partners, and Sharon has no wish to continue the pattern. Staring down Shas towards the end of the last Knesset was the first step, and a narrow coalition with Shinui and NRP, is the second step. Shinui can be expected to be a very compliant partner on all the issues close to Sharon’s heart, and if NRP ever finds itself uncomfortable with Sharon’s diplomatic initiatives, he will have no trouble replacing them.
Sharon’s seeks to turn the Likud into Israel’s consensus party, on the model of the old Mapai, for a long time to come. On security issues, he has skillfully isolated both the Oslo die-hards in Labor and Meretz and the hard Right.
Now he is busy co-opting all the other issues that the Left might every use against him. It is doubtful that he has spent an hour in his life thinking about Israel’s constitutional structure or the method of judicial selection, but if he can win a few points with the media and take away one of the Left’s issues by pushing Aharon Barak’s constitution, why not?
On every issue, Sharon is positioning himself at the center of the political consensus. Attacking the chareidim is part of that consensus. And it also allows Sharon to spruce up the Likud’s image and to remove the stigma of association with the chareidim.
Needless to say this is not very pleasant. But at least we may be spared in the future looking at pictures of Likud Central Committee members dressed in chareidi garb and reading about vote contractors from the ``chareidi bloc" in the Likud Central Committee.