Ultra-Orthodox protest against the enlistment into the IDF
Ultra-Orthodox protest against the enlistment into the IDF in the Mea She'arim Quarter in Jerusalem. Photo by Shiran Granot
Text size

What does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really think about the issue of a universal draft? Does he think all of us - including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox - should serve three full years in the Israel Defense Forces? Does he think that Arabs do not have to serve in the army but Haredim do? Does he think that both Arabs and Haredim can make do with national civilian service? Does he think that sanctions must be imposed on people who refuse to serve? Does he oppose sanctions?

It seems that even if Netanyahu does have clear thoughts and ideas about the draft, he does not think they necessarily need to be implemented. As it has been throughout his term of office, on the explosive issue of "equal bearing of the burden," Netanyahu is led by pressure groups, each of which in its turn, in keeping with its momentary clout and the electoral threat it poses, manages to sway him.

The story of the Plesner committee, and the embarrassing way Netanyahu changed his position on it in less than a week, is a worrisome example of a leader's lack of ability to lead.

Last Monday, Netanyahu announced to the Kadima chairman, Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, that he was dismantling the committee because it "had not been able to reach an agreed-upon path and cannot make recommendations that will attain a majority in the Knesset."

In fact, Netanyahu had decided to dismantle the panel because of political pressure from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who with a wink to his own voters, demanded that a universal draft also apply to the Arabs, and because of the opposition of the ultra-Orthodox parties to the panel's recommendation of sanctions against draft-dodgers.

The haste with which he dismembered the committee contained an indication of the haste with which he would accept its recommendations less than a week later. After Netanyahu learned that thousands of people were going to take part in Saturday night's demonstration calling for a universal draft, he realized that the pent-up frustration among many in the middle class could be vented against him at the ballot box. That was the moment he decided to change his approach - the moment that provided yet more proof that Netanyahu's position is no more than the net sum of the pressures on him at any given moment.

"I don't know what the people want or don't want. I know what the people need" - said Israel's first prime minster, David Ben-Gurion. Netanyahu seems to believe that what the people need is his political survival and nothing more.