Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Different Kind of Two State Solution

Ed. Note: Professor Aner Shalev at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem published this very "tongue-in-cheek" analysis of the current two-state solution existing in Israel today. We are grateful for his permission to share the piece (which first appeared in the newspaper Haaretz on January 4th in an article titled "The Haredi State").

Professor Shalev's opinion piece speaks about the current balance between orthodox and progressive, "religious" and secular, Haredi and other Israelis. What is your opinion of this divide? How can we work to balance the needs and desires of the "second state" Shalev describes while at the same time working to procure peace with a Palestinian  "second state"?

Shalev's post is written with a great sense of irony which translates well from the Hebrew it is originally written in. If you would like to read the original Hebrew language piece, it can be found here.

Have you always dreamed about living to see the establishment of two states for two peoples? The dream has long since come true. Fantasized about a welfare state? Look no further, it's here. Demonstrated for affordable housing? Behold, it is now reality. Striving for a country not drained by enormous security budgets? You've already got it. Demanded classes with few pupils, a long school day, and free higher education? All these dreams have come true in the Haredi State, living in peace alongside the State of Israel.

The Haredi State is a welfare state that would make the Scandinavians jealous. Most inhabitants are supported by pensions and stipends, and are almost completely exempt from income tax and municipal taxes.

The state initiates huge housing projects which are made available to the public for affordable prices. The education system of the Haredi State has many advantages in comparison to its parallels in neighboring countries: fewer pupils per class, and students that aren't required to sweat over core studies or practical studies, allowing them to calmly concentrate on spiritual issues.

Fortunately, the Haredi State has no army and needs none, thanks to the defense treaty with its closest neighbor. Yes, it's difficult to be a woman in the Haredi State, but one cannot interfere in the internal matters of a sovereign state.

Lately, several border spats have occurred between Israel and the Haredi state, events that included spitting, cussing and humiliating Israeli citizens. Still, as Israel's Prime Minister and many of the pundits explained, these were the actions of miniscule splinter groups which don't represent the majority of ultra-Orthodox who eagerly support the peace agreement with Israel, and its benefits. According to these pundits, the victims of the fanatic splinter groups, trying to enforce Haredi laws within Israel's borders, are not the women who have been attacked, but rather the Haredi population as a whole, which is completely innocent.

Some claim that the latest border events stem from innocent territorial misunderstandings. Does the bus line running from Ashdod to Jerusalem, boarded by Tanya, run in Israeli or Haredi sovereign territory? And line 49A, boarded by Doron, the female soldier? And the pavement in Beit Shemesh, where 8-year-old Naama was afraid to walk? Could it be that Tanya and Naama encroached Haredi sovereignty unawares?

The fiscal agreements between the two states, regulating funding of the Haredi state by Israeli taxpayers, are ironclad, as are the military agreements guaranteeing protection from the Israeli army and the judiciary agreement giving the Haredi State control over matters of matrimony, divorce and burial. However, the actual border line between the new states has never been clearly drawn. Therefore it is only natural that the rapid growth of the Haredi population causes the border line to be moved every so often, as part of a slow - and ultimately justifiable - annexation of Israeli lands. This process of Haredi expansion and Israeli retreats has only one danger: The Haredi State might eventually lose the hand that feeds it.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai recently declared with surprising honesty that a Haredi-only city will have no income, and since it won't collect local taxes it can't survive. Yes, it's nice to feel needed every now and then.

The issue surrounding the exclusion of women by the ultra-Orthodox should not be reduced to strong condemnations and local enforcement of the law, as the government wishes. Its an opportunity to hold a frank and honest debate about money, power and exemptions handed out by all Israeli governments to the Haredi public in exchange for political support, a deal with a high price for many Israelis. This was one of the main causes of the social unrest last summer.

Israel should avoid this debate only if it wishes to commit suicide.

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