Analysis

Will Netanyahu Call Early Elections? Hasidic Rabbi to Decide

Deputy Health Minister Litzman may want the conscription bill to pass, his moves are dictated by the Gerrer rebbe, who's in dubious touch with reality

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a faction meeting of Shas at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 12, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Within a matter of days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made two contradictory statements regarding the military conscription bill

His office announced midweek that the prime minister had spoken separately with both sides of the divide, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. The announcement stated that both the advocate, Lieberman, and the opponent, Litzman, of the compromise plan had expressed a wish to reach a win-win solution that would allow the coalition to fulfill its electoral mandate through November 2019.

The tone changed on Sunday. Netanyahu put a loaded gun on the table at a meeting of the heads of the coalition partners. He allocated two weeks to find an agreeable formula and pass the bill. Otherwise, he threatened, he would call early elections.

>> Analysis: Protests against nation-state law highlight sad truth about Israeli left

The Prime Minister’s Office reported the truth the last time. Litzman truly and in good faith wanted the conscription bill, with minor changes, to be approved at last. However, his position and will are irrelevant. He has a rabbi above him, the Gerrer rebbe, who is in dubious touch with reality, and he is the one who dictates Litzman’s moves.

Litzman’s Haredi colleagues, Arye Deri of Shas and Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, were also happy to sign the proposal by the Defense Ministry, almost word for word. However, Litzman’s Hasidic leader is digging in his heels. In the lunatic politics of Israel, four Knesset members can force premature elections.

Head rabbi of the Ger Hasidic sect Yaakov Alter
ליאור מזרחי / באוב

If a compromise is not found, the elections will likely be held in February or March 2019. 

The Knesset will return from its summer recess this October and dissolve itself within two weeks. Election campaigns traditionally take place about 100 days after the Knesset dissolves. Netanyahu, the greatest of politicians, will succeed for the second time in a decade to complete a four-year term.

The new draft bill will be one of the first and most pressing topics in the coalition negotiations. The High Court of Justice will refuse to let the Knesset tarry until the summer. The Haredim will not get a better offer than the one laid on the table before them today. Will Agudat Israel announce that it is reconciling itself to life in the opposition for an entire term because of “the preservation of the status of yeshiva students?” Please. Just wait and see.

With or without the conscription bill, the approaching elections will be felt in all their gravity in the last winter session of the 20th Knesset. This government has practically finished its agenda, and the nation-state bill is the final, grating, ugly chord of the entire concert. 

“Decisive evidence of opposition against the existence of Israel and the victory of the nation-state law,” Netanyahu called the waving of 10 to 15 Palestinian flags during the march in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. (The flags were in direct contravention of the guidelines of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which organized the event and prevailed upon participants not to wave flags.)

According to this twisted logic, the photomontages of Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform in Zion Square in Jerusalem under the balcony where Netanyahu spoke were “decisive evidence” that the head of the opposition was a full partner to the incitement to murder against the prime minister. 

And the coffin at the demonstration in Ra’anana, which Netanyahu led, was unequivocal testimony that he hoped for Rabin’s death.