Dividing the nation over time


The recent campaign to extend daylight savings time offers an economic breakdown of how it would benefit the Israeli market. However, on more than one occasion, the report depicts an underlying hatred toward the ultra-Orthodox, and fuels the overall secular-religious divide.

Israel is grappling with a serious identity crisis that has yet to be resolved, and with daylight savings, the issue has come up once again and demands a solution. But people cannot be united by inciting the masses and exercising exclusivist doctrines. We need a new dialogue, one that will take us out of the realm in which the secular are depicted in a good light while the religious are seen in a bad one.

As is the case every year, the issue of turning the clocks back has arisen again. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis signed a petition drafted by MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) to extend daylight savings time to late October, providing an extra month of light in the evenings. Horowitz’s proposition was passed with a significant majority at the first reading, following a recommendation by a panel of experts that supported the notion.

But, much to Horowitz’s surprise, his proposal was buried in the Interior Ministry’s committee, as part of the Shas party’s policy to delay any alteration to the status quo.

The daylight savings issue has lost perspective for both the religious and the secular communities in Israel. When examining the overwhelming support this proposal has garnered, one can see the deeper issues surface.

It is no surprise that Horowitz used the words of the Hanukkah song “We have come to drive out the darkness” when referring to the Shas party. Horowitz exhibits his party’s well-known, unfriendly attitude toward the religious population, suggesting that the forces of light are modern secular Israelis, pitted against the pre-modern religious forces of darkness.

“We came to drive out the darkness, but the real darkness is within the Interior Ministry and this gloomy government. We must drive them out so there will be light,” Horowitz said.

It is possible and even correct to criticize a government’s actions or ministers and their intentions, which occasionally go against the public’s wishes. But it is not necessary to turn one side into a superior group.

In the words of Mickey Gitzin, chairwoman of Free Israel, which advocates for the separation of religion and state: “The State of Israel once again is dragged down by the sinister intentions of Eli Yishai, instead of joining the civilized world and making use of the sunlight as best we can.”

Extending daylight savings time would not necessarily be a source of harm for the religious population. It would allow religious individuals to wake up one hour later for morning prayers and to hold evening prayers later. On Fridays, the religious community could have more time to prepare for the Sabbath, which would begin one hour later.

Yet, for some reason, we don’t hear the voices of religious constituents crying out against those who represent them.

On the other hand, is the secular public voting solely for the sake of efficiency, entertainment, and increased productivity? I think not. Horowitz’s secularism itself is a religious movement and is irrational, and its flaws should be pointed out. How can one join a campaign when its leaders utilize such methods?

I have no say in the decision as to whether daylight savings time should be extended.

But when it comes to the identity issue in Israel, I can say that we must stop referring to the religious public as something dark. The religious community has values, faces, tendencies and ideologies, just like the secular one. Secularists must be aware of the boundaries of what they can say in public discourse.

This article was first published on Israel Hayom