Shinui Reloaded or a Separation Movement?

by Maskil on 31 Mar 2008

In my piece “Exorcising the Haredi Golem” earlier this month, I suggested that a partial answer to Haredi manipulation of the political process in Israel may be to establish a grassroots NGO (along the lines of Omets (Ometz)). I suggested that a focused “single-issue” NGO (for the sake of argument, let’s call it the “Separation” movement) may be more effective than even a political party in addressing the challenges of exorcising the Haredi Golem from Israel’s body politic.

I was therefore interested to note that, according to this recent article in Ynetnews, the Shinui political party itself may make a comeback, no doubt with a new name, key players and some changes to policies and (hopefully) some new strategies. Would the welcome revival of Shinui in some form do away with the need for the mooted Separation movement? My answer is that there is room and a need for both a grassroots NGO and a political party with somewhat overlapping objectives.

For example, there will be occasions where a piece of legislation should enjoy wide support across the political spectrum. It would be the job of the Separation movement to “remind” politicians and parties alike of their duty to the public. Similarly, there may be times where Shinui Reloaded itself needs to be prodded to keep to the straight and narrow, e.g. as occurred with the attempt to introduce a civil marriage bill some years back. Shinui failed to support the bill, at the cost of a great deal of credibility.

Another issue frequently raised is the lack of accountability to the public on the part of MKs. This is usually ascribed to the fact that MKs do not represent a particular geographical constituency. One way that this may be addressed by the Separation movement is for it to keep track of the stance taken by political parties, other NGOs and public figures, including MKs and other politicians. Each political body or public figure could then be assigned a sliding-scale Taliban (or Ayatollah?) rating, based on his/her demonstrated commitment to support (or oppose) further concessions to the Haredim or other theocratic tendencies. It would then be a simple matter to remind politicians (and the public) of their demonstrated track record when seeking support from society.

This naming and shaming is by no means a foolproof solution, but will hopefully serve to let public figures understand that there is a political price to be paid (now or in the future) for kissing the rabbinic ring. From the first, Israeli politicians have shown themselves to be far too willing to hand the education, equality, personal status, rights and taxes of their constituents over to the Men in Black, but the trend has now escalated dangerously.

For an example of what can be tackled and achieved by this kind of single issue activism, we need look no further than the ‘Green Now!’ initiative launched earlier this month to start pressuring mayoral candidates to make environmental issues central to their campaign. According to the relevant JPOST report, “The groups will present the candidates with four specific demands, and promise to monitor which candidates adopt them and which follow through once they are elected”.

Another role that this proposed Separation movement could play is in building bridges between the secular and the religious. This is usually done on the basis of “educating” the secular public regarding religion. Perhaps it’s time for some education regarding democratic values, free societies and the benefits of separation between religion and state. Also included could be the values of Zionism that have stood the test of time; the value of labour, creating a just society, overturning the “inverted pyramid”, defence, purchase of land, etc.

This move for separation between religion and state should never be seen (or fought) as a struggle between the non- or anti-religious and the religious. It should instead be seen as a struggle between the democratic and secular forces (secular in the sense simply of freedom from religious influence on law) and those seeking to bring on the long, dark night of theocracy in Israel (while plundering the treasury in the meantime). This is not something I (or any right-thinking person) would want for Israel.

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