Monday, December 7, 2009

In For a Penny, In For a Pound

Back in September, I wrote this post about how the proposed housing freeze would affect Haredim more than any other constituency in Israel. It seems that I was right. Yesterday's Jerusalem Post contained this article about how the Chareidim living in Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit (a.k.a. Kiryat Sefer) want Barack Obama to exclude them from the freeze. The article, for all its irony, contains some precious gems, like:
"The US is the real boss here, not the Israeli government, so we need to convince America that we're not an ideological settlement," said Mayor Meir Rubinstein..."They pushed us to come here. They gave us no other choice. We didn't necessarily want to settle in a place beyond the Green Line. But we had no other options inside the Green Line...America does not want us either," he said. "They won't give us a green card. We're in a worse situation than Sudanese refugees. They don't want us in Israel, they don't want us in America, where are we supposed to go?"
First some (unsolicited) advice for Mayor Rubinstein from Pirkei Avot (3:17):
רבי עקיבא אומר...סיג לחכמה שתיקה
Said Rabbi Akiva: the "fence" for wisdom in silence.
He's really not helping himself at all here, whether we're talking about the Israeli public that sees his comments as a חילול ה' - ("We're really not one of you!") nor the American Chareidi public that truly is right-wing in its politics. Does he actually mean what it sounds like he means? I really hope not. Does he really mean that given the choice, hundreds of thousands of Chareidim would prefer to live in Lakewood as opposed to Kiryat Sefer? That would make the next quote quite questionable:
We're true Zionists. We came because of our religious faith; we're not ideologically motivated," he said.
I have three responses:
1. Sorry, life doesn't work that way. You wanted the West Bank specifically because the land was cheap and plentiful. Why did you think it was so cheap? You specifically wanted locations within reasonable reach of Yerushalayim that was also reasonably priced. Well, the West Bank prices were just right - for a reason. And now that reason has reared its ugly head.
2. Do we really think that most "settlers" live in the West Bank for purely ideological reasons? Sure, some people are true ideologues, living in far-away places on hilltops, giving the New York Times unlimited photo fodder. But most "settlers" moved the West Bank for the very same reason that the Chareidim did: it offered plentiful housing at an affordable price. The location was sometimes annoying (read here: road closures, rocks, bullets, etc.) and often ideologically appropriate. Still, most people that I know bought (and buy) houses in the Shomron because that's where they can afford to live.
3. Finally, Barack Obama doesn't care what motivated people to live in the West Bank. Nor do the Palestinians. They protest the expansion of Kiryat Sefer just as much as the expansion of Ofrah. It's a line on a map. If you're on the wrong side, you've got a problem that won't go away with a plea from a mayor.
Today Shas started to feel the heat. An Arutz 7 news item quoted Religious Services Minister Yacov Margi of Shas who said that, "the decision to freeze Jewish construction is inhumane and immoral," and that there should be "exceptions" to the freeze - I guess that means for Chareidim, but he couldn't say that. The article ended by noting that,
The Shas party absented themselves from the cabinet vote on the freeze.
Why did they skip the vote? Because they hate getting into ideological fights that might cost them Torah funding for yeshivot. Unfortunately for them, the Chareidim now face a pressing housing crisis that will only get worse. At some point they're going to have to decide which cost crisis will need to take precedence: funding for yeshivot, or the additional costs of a housing shortage. When the pressure from the lack of living space overwhelms the Chareidi political establishment forcing them to exert pressure on the government, we'll see some loosening of the settlement freeze.
Note to the Chareidim: Unlike Ya'akov Avinu, you knew who you were getting in bed with. At least wear the "settler" badge with pride.