Israel’s most recent war does not involve the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. The fighting is within the country’s boundaries and it involves the Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews constituting a minority of the population, but wielding an inordinate amount of political power. Unlike the secular Jewish majority, the Haredim have their own schools, which do not teach mathematics, English, and other subjects needed for functioning in modern society. They do not serve in the military, and they depend on government assistance for daily living expenses.
In The War Within journalists Yuval Elizur (former deputy chief editor of Ma’ariv) and Lawrence Malkin, a writer and reporter for Time Magazine, the Associated Press, and the International Herald-Tribune, analyze the situation and examine issues such as military service, women’s rights, welfare dependency, and private education. Noting that the lack of a constitution allows a minority undue influence, the authors worry that the lack of tolerance for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel threatens to fragment the country. This could, in theory, lead to the end of a Jewish state. They also point out small bright spots: Haredi schools in Beit Shemesh that teach a standard academic curriculum, Haredim who seek employment that brings them into contact with other communities, and Haredim who serve in the military and have to work with others. They hope that these small steps on the part of some ultra-Orthodox will lead to increased tolerance and, ultimately, a solution that will allow the country to prosper.
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in Israel, and a good choice for book clubs interested in political issues.