Rift Between Netanyahu and Haredim Deepens

Divide over pending bills begs a question: Can the PM form a government after the next elections?

As of now the rift between the Haredim and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems deep and unbridgeable. People in Likud and Netanyahu’s immediate surroundings are beginning to ask aloud: After the next elections, which Netanyahu is expected to easily win for lack of alternative, will he have enough backing in Knesset to have first crack at forming a government, even without the recommendations of vengeful MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism?

Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog has skillfully inserted himself into this fissure. Until yesterday, the opposition’s decision to boycott the Knesset debates on all three of the bills that the coalition has tied together seemed authentic, albeit slightly infantile. The statement by Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri that Herzog is his candidate for prime minister made many people wonder if the move to boycott the vote, led by faction chairman MK Eitan Cabel, was not actually mean to liberate Labor from the painful need to vote this morning for the Haredi draft bill. This way, they manage to take unholy credit from the followers of the leading Ashkenazi and Sephardic rabbis, while raising higher the wall of Haredi hatred toward Netanyahu’s Likud.

The warm embrace that Herzog has enjoyed over the past few days from the margins of the Israeli electorate – Meretz, the Haredim and the Arabs – will certainly not go down well with the mainstream, and does not come without risks. On the one hand, Herzog suddenly seems like a candidate with a real shot at becoming prime minister. On the other, the numbers don’t really add up. There is no way he can form a government without Yesh Atid, which will condition its support on implementing the draft law beginning in 2018. The Haredim, for their part, will demand that Herzog cancel the law. Even a skillful politician with Herzog’s charm and experience will find it difficult to square the circle, if and when the time comes.

And from yet a third angle, Herzog’s voters will find it hard to come to terms with the fact that Labor – the party that founded the state and the Israel Defense Forces – is turning its back on a law intended to correct decades of unequal army service. This is true even though everyone clearly knows that the law that passes today – with only the coalition present – not only will not send Haredim to the army induction center, it will back-peddle on what has already been achieved. Bottom line: No Haredi will be drafted by force. Annoying, but there you have it.

The governance law, which was passed yesterday, includes some positive clauses: The cabinet will be reduced to 18 ministers plus the prime minister; the number of deputy ministers will go down and the wasteful fiction known as “minister without portfolio” will be done away with.

The no-confidence vote, which has been an object of disrespect over the years, will become a more sane process. The raising of the electoral threshold is more problematic because of the complexities of Israeli society, which has a large minority of Arabs. In any case, this is the first real achievement of Yesh Atid chairman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid. It’s an issue to run on the next time.