In Row With Lapid Over Haredi IDF Draft, Netanyahu Blinked First

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bitter experience has taught him that this minefield of drafting the ultra-Orthodox is not worth a try at political maneuvering since he may very well lose both his legs - and even worse, his job.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu woke up Monday morning to a political nightmare he knows quite well: the nightmare called “sharing the burden.” This seemingly innocent phrase is what destroyed the unity government with Kadima less than a year ago; seriously eroded the popularity Netanyahu gained after the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit; caused Netanyahu to look as if he was being held hostage by the hated Haredim; drove away quite a few Likud voters into the arms of Yesh Atid; and forced the prime minister to separate unwillingly from his natural partners in favor of the less-than-innocent pair Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.

Netanyahu, the poor thing: This trouble had to fall on him, on his watch. Both of them actually. For 65 years the discrimination between Haredim and the non-Haredim exists and has grown. He was not the one who passed the Tal Law, as Ehud Barak did; he was not the one who extended it, as Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert did. But he is the one sentenced to eat the unripe fruit dropping from the tree of draft evasion time after time.

It is no surprise that Netanyahu quickly retreated Monday and ordered Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to reverse himself on his objection to Section 39 of the bill, which is what blew up the discussions of the Perry Committee on sharing the burden early Sunday morning. His bitter experience has taught him that this minefield of drafting the ultra-Orthodox is not worth a try at political maneuvering since he may very well lose both his legs − and even worse, his job.

Damned if he does ...

Netanyahu is in a built-in inferior position on this loaded issue, while Yair Lapid can only profit from every scenario:

1. Netanyahu reverses himself − Lapid wins.

2. Netanyahu stands firm − Lapid quits the government on a matter of “principle” and happily departs from the plague known as the Finance Ministry even before his harsh budget cuts take effect.

3. Netanyahu brings the Haredim into his government − Yesh Atid immediately grows stronger.

4. New elections are called over Netanyahu’s decision not to implement the universal draft law in four more years on Moishele from Bnei Brak, and not to impose criminal sanctions on him, which are the fate of all deserters. Nu, what else would Lapid need to win next time?

The person who best expressed this simple truth at Monday's meeting of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset faction was MK Tzahi Hanegbi. He cut off Ya’alon, who was working hard to explain to the MKs in miraculous phrases why he was right and Lapid was only searching for excuses. Hanegbi mocked Ya’alon: “Explain to me what is the relevance of all you said to the only thing that interests the public: What does a young Haredi have over a young secular?”

Hanegbi was most crass. Others, such as Transportation Minister YIsrael Katz, politely told off Ya’alon and said he did not have to fall into the trap that Lapid set for him in the middle of the night. Other MKs remained silent, but no one supported Ya’alon. Among themselves, they thought that maybe the man with the tall army boots from the Kirya is not the appropriate type to deal with such sensitive and explosive political and public matters.

This was a brief − but real − crisis. The prime minister and defense minister, captain in the reserves and lieutenant general in the reserves respectively, both graduates of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit − granted Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a reserve corporal from the IDF’s Bamahane magazine, who has been mauled and battered by the public, a priceless gift: 12 hours of positive press, of a return to his and his late father’s populist element − persecuting Haredim.

Twice since the government was established, the leader of Yesh Atid has enjoyed a pampered day in the media: The first time was after his confrontation with MK Moshe Gafni ‏(United Torah Judaism‏) and his partners in the Knesset, and the second was Monday. As before, Lapid also now won at the expense of the Haredim. He will always have the Haredim to bank on, even when they themselves remain silent and utter not a word. 

Netanyahu and Lapid. Credit: Archive

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