Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Israeli Secularists Appear to Find Their Voice

NY Times   Now, Mr. Lapid’s stunning success in last week’s election, in which his new Yesh Atid became Israel’s second largest party, is being viewed by many voters, activists and analysts here as a victory for the secular mainstream in the intensifying identity battle gripping the country.

The catchphrase of Mr. Lapid’s populist campaign, and now a core principle of the negotiations to create Israel’s next governing coalition, is “sharing the burden.” That refers directly to lifting the widespread draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, integrating them into the work force, and shifting the balance of who pays taxes and who receives government aid. But it is also code for a broader sociological shift, a call to push back against the ultra-Orthodox minority’s outsize influence in the public sphere, including efforts to gender-segregate buses, sidewalks and stores in their neighborhoods and strict rabbinical controls on marriage, divorce, conversion and adoption statewide.  

“All of a sudden there was a change in seculars in Israel — they see themselves also as a sector that needs to fight for themselves,” said Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, a group founded in 2009 that advocates for equality and religious pluralism. “People say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t see myself as part of a society where women cannot sit in the front of the bus.’ People don’t want to be part of such an extreme society.” [...]

In the speech to the ultra-Orthodox at Ono Academic College, Mr. Lapid spoke pointedly about overhauling the draft and the core curriculum, but also called for a sort of détente.

“I realize you don’t want your kids to play with my kids in the public playground, and I try very hard not to take offense,” he said. “But there’s no reason why we can’t find a way to live next door to each other without my having to fear that you’ll proselytize my kids, and without you having to fear that I’ll corrupt your kids.”

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