At Haredi demand, contentious resolution will list Torah study among Zionist values

Ultra-Orthodox parties objected to original text, fearing their community might not get benefits if priority is given to those who serve in IDF; cabinet may vote on text this week

In this file photo taken on March 11, 2009, Haredi men gather at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
In this file photo taken on March 11, 2009, Haredi men gather at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

A controversial resolution by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition to assert “the values of Zionism” in government policy will reportedly be amended to also promote Torah study, in a move to placate Haredi parties.

The government resolution, which was originally scheduled for a vote during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, has raised concerns it could be used to advance preferential treatment for the Jewish population regarding planning and construction for housing in different parts of the country, and is opposed by the Attorney General’s Office.

The focus of the resolution on giving preferential treatment to citizens who serve in the IDF or perform national service — and potentially also engage in Torah study — is widely seen as a way to provide some social benefits specifically to Jews. The large majority of Arab citizens do not perform military or national service.

According to a Channel 12 news report Monday, the resolution with the amendment including the study of Jewish texts as a desired value could be voted on by telephone as early as Wednesday.

The report said Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs was working to insert the amendment into the resolution.

The vote to assert “the values of Zionism” in government policy, particularly over land allocation, construction planning and benefits for those who perform military duty, was delayed on Sunday due to the opposition of ultra-Orthodox parties, whose voters eschew military and national service in favor of religious scholarship.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Channel 12, unnamed judicial sources believe that in any case, the resolution will be struck down by the High Court.

“There is no chance that the High Court will not reject this proposal, certainly if the value of Torah study is included in it,” the unnamed source said, adding that it would upset the delicate balance between Israel’s underlying values of Judaism and Democracy.

During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu criticized the Israel Lands Authority, which he charged was creating economic problems and roadblocks for the construction and expansion of new towns, and accused the agency of “creating discrimination,” according to Channel 12 news.

He also protested Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s reported suggestion that further deliberations be held over the measure, saying, “I don’t want to give instructions to have a debate, I want to determine policy.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir sniped at Baharav-Miara for having sent a deputy and for not submitting a written opinion on the issue, claiming, unreasonably, that her opposition to the measure demonstrated she was opposed to Zionism.

“We are losing the Negev and the Galilee. This resolution will enable [us] to prioritize values to Judaize the Galilee with settlement, and IDF soldiers and the security forces,” Ynet reported Ben Gvir as saying.

The government resolution proposed by Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf of Otzma Yehudit bases the Zionist values it seeks to promote on those expressed in the highly controversial Basic Law: Nation State of the Jewish People.

Critics say that law contravenes the basis of Israel’s legal system, as well as its Declaration of Independence, and solidifies inequality among its citizens.

Members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, including party leader National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (center) and Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, hold a party meeting at the illegal West Bank settlement outpost of Evyatar, February 27, 2023. (Courtesy: Otzma Yehudit)

Wasserlauf and the far-right Otzma party have adopted a goal of “Judaizing” the Negev and Galilee regions in light of the large Arab populations in those regions, and the “Zionist values” resolution is apparently part of the far-right party’s efforts to achieve that goal.

The text of Wasserlauf’s proposed resolution states specifically that it is applicable to government agencies involved in land allocation and construction planning, such as the Israel Land Authority and the National Council for Planning and Construction.

The explanatory text of the resolution states that considerations used by the government and its various branches sometimes “ignore basic Zionist values,” specifically regarding the right to self-determination of the Jewish people “in the Land of Israel,” including “in [the field of] settlement, security, culture, and immigration.”

The use of the phrase “the Land of Israel,” instead of the “State of Israel,” and Otzma Yehudit’s strong support for the West Bank settlement movement could also indicate that the resolution is designed in part to overcome legal problems faced by many settlements.

In the recently approved state budget, Wasserlauf secured NIS 450 million ($121 million) for his ministry to allocate toward development funds for local municipal authorities in the Negev, Galilee and wildcat outposts euphemistically termed “young settlements” for which the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Ministry is also responsible.

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