As he saw it, “Even if the chareidim enlisted at the age of 14 and received draft orders at their bar mitzvah, [Lapid’ people] would still disqualify them from sitting in the government.”
Lapid seems motivated by sheer hate. Just last week he and Bennett altered his proposal to enlist chareidim by force for the milder Horowitz Proposal, using the carrot and stick approach, persuading chareidim to enlist instead of coercing them. Now, as if afraid the chareidim might accept the new proposal, he suddenly rejected themunder all circumstances.
In contrast, Yesh Atid’s ally, Habayit Hayehudi, said that their party disagreed with Lapid’s policy and would not exclude any party from the government.
“We are rolling up our sleeves to help the Prime Minister set up a broad government and be of assistance,” Bennett said.
To which Shas responded, “What does Bennett mean when he says ‘a broad government?’ He is partner with Yair Lapid who negates the entry of chareidim into the government.”
In practice, Bennett’s pact with Lapid means he will adhere to the anti-chareidi policy and affectively boycott chareidim. Keeping Shas and UTJ out the government presents an opportunity for Habayit Hayehudi to place its Religious Zionist rabbis in positions of power across the country, beginning with the chief rabbinate. In addition, chareidi educational institutions would suffer from drastic cuts in funding. Unlike the secular public that has legally defined budgets for education, funds for chareidi education are battled upon every year. Likud-Beiteinu sources say the coalition may be finalized by the end of this week.
Netanyahu tried to pry Bennett and Lapid apart, but to no avail. Naftoli Bennett complained on Friday, “While the Likud was explaining to us how important it is to abandon the connection with Lapid in order to strengthen the settlement enterprise, it was explaining to Lapid how important it is to abandon Bayit Yehudi in order to tear down the settlement enterprise.”
Despite all of Netanyahu’s and the chareidim’s efforts, the Bennet-Lapid pact is strong as ever. Bennet still enjoys support from the majority of his party. The four leading rabbis of Tekumah, a far right faction that comprises one third of Habayit Hayehudi, sent a letter supporting the party’s political moves.
“To MK Naftoli Bennett, MK Uri Uriel, and Natan Natanson, shalom rav,” they wrote. “After the updates we got from you, despite all the media hysteria, we support you in the path you are treading to preserve the world of Torah and settlement in Eretz Yisroel in cooperation with Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party. The rabbis of Tekumah: Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Chaim Steiner, Rabbi Isar Klonski, Rabbi David Chai Cohen.”
In reaction, a senior Shas official said, “How can a rabbi dare support Naftali Bennett’s union with the enemy of the chareidim Yair Lapid, and even worse, call that the preservation of the Torah?”
Lapid is negotiating with leftist and Arab parties for leadership of the opposition to fall back on if the need arises, while Shas leaders are still trying to persuade the leftist Labor party to join Netanyahu’s coalition.
CHAREIDIM LASH OUT
On Motzoei Shabbos Netanyahu requested and received a regulation two weeks extension from President Shimon Peres. He now has until March 16 to patch together a government. During his visit, Netanyahu hinted to Peres that Lapid’s anti-chareidi stance, reinforced by Bennett, was largely to blame for the paralysis.
“The reason there is no coalition so far is because there are boycotts of an entire public in the State of Israel and that does not match my views,” he told the President. “When products made by settlers in Judea and Samaria are boycotted, we justly protest, and the people who need to understand this more than anyone are the settlers who are subjected to daily boycotts. In my view, throughout our history, we underwent tragedies as a result of hatred and fighting between brothers, and when we look around us and see the tremendous challenges, we need to unite forces and not split up.
“I want to use the coming days to try to form a wide government, and I hope party leaders will show responsibility. Responsibility and leadership, in my eyes, is to unite the nation and not divide it, and for that I need additional time,” he concluded.
Earlier that day, Lapid announced his anti-chareidi policy for the first time.
He wrote, “I do not believe that Shas and UTJ can sit in a government that will make the changes for which we went to elections: Changing the criteria for [subsidized] housing, core curriculum studies for all, equality in the burden of enlistment and the necessary cuts in yeshiva budgets… This is the new civil agenda, which most citizens of this country support, but the chareidi parties firmly oppose. That’s their right, but politicians have to be prepared to pay the price for their positions.”
Chareidi leaders lashed out against Lapid and Bennett for their extremist positions.
“It’s easy to say, ‘We don’t hate chareidim,’ while in effect doing everything possible to undermine our way of life, our faith, views and conscience,” said Moshe Gafni. “Lapid needs to learn a little history and understand that United Torah Judaism spent more years in the opposition than in the coalition. But our argument is not with Yesh Atid, which unabashedly promotes boycotting chareidim, but with its partners, who suffer from constant boycotts themselves, and have now joined Lapid’s boycott against the chareidi public. Habayit Hayehudi’s disconnection from the Torah world is giving Netanyahu strength to make a deal with Yesh Atid, to carry out a disengagement from Judea and Samaria, and it will be thanks to Habayit Hayehudi. I never believed that people from Habayit Hayehudi, with whom we have worked to strengthen the Land of Israel, could have sunk so low as to take a step that is dangerous and hurtful toward chareidim and the Torah world.”
Eli Yishai said the same. “Lapid’s hatred of us is greater than Bennett’s love for various parts of the Land of Israel and concern for settling the land, because if that were not the case, Bennett would know that the price of his connection to Lapid will be paid by the settlers in Judea and Samaria,” he said. “The partnership between the two men, in the final accounting, when Lapid is finished with his public relations stunt of excluding the chareidim, will undermine the community whose rallying cry is that there will not be another disengagement, the camp that realizes that security precedes peace. Bennett may win the battle but he will lose the war. Habayit Hayehudi has sold its soul, its flag and the future of the settlement enterprise… Bennett has sacrificed the future of settlements on the altar of chareidi hatred.”
Chareidi leaders have pointed out that while Habayit Hayehudi speaks of equalizing the burden of enlistment, the settlements in Yehuda and Shomron it represents produce huge security, diplomatic and economic burdens. Rank and file chareidim have spoken of boycotting products of the settlements, and a senior Shas official even threatened that Shas might undermine Religious Zionist goals.
“It makes no difference what government results and whether we’re inside or out,” he said. “We will go head to head against the settlements without concern. We’ll vote for evacuation of outposts and building freezes. We’ll support political processes and vote in favor of budget cuts for settlements.”
Religious Zionists have responded by attacking Bennett’s callous disregard for the chareidim. Danny Danon, past chairman of the Yehuda and Shomron Council, sent a letter to Menachem Eliezer Moses of UTJ saying that Bennett’s behavior was ungrateful.
“I turn to you as I cannot help remembering the days when time after time you offered your unconditional, enthusiastic support for every matter connected to the building of Eretz Yisroel in general and the travails of Yehuda and Shomron in particular,” he wrote. “Together we toured the length and breadth of the Yehuda and Shomron region: The Me’arat Hamachpeilah, Kever Yosef,Har Berachah and Har Chevron, Shilo and Itamar. You were always among the first to enlist and enthusiastically support any enterprise for strengthening the Jewish settlement in these birth pangs. Other members of your party also contributed much towards the issues of Yehuda and Shomron.
“In recent days I see people who are well aware of your efforts paying back evil for good to you and your party. Their behavior is not only wrong but foolish… Speaking for myself I say that I am ashamed.”
The Yehuda and Shomron council issued an announcement saying, “The Yehuda and Shomron council considers the chareidi public and its parties as partners in its struggle for Eretz Yisroel and there is great importance in their inclusion in the government. For many years we have found them to be faithful supporters of Yehuda and Shomron settlement and we are obligated to be grateful for this. We demand that all sides make a serious effort to bring the chareidi parties into the government and call upon those involved to begin negotiations with them immediately.”
In reply to Dayan’s letter, Moses wrote that he was against boycotting the settlements:
“I am sorry that this is the path chosen [by Habayit Hayehudi] and sorry to find out the hard way, the harsh path being taken by Religious Zionism. Bans and boycotts have never been our way. As a Wiznitzer chassid, I am faithful to the concept of Ahavas Yisroel, and in my heart I have love and compassion for every Jew, whoever he may be. I always honored the students of Hesder yeshivos, and also honored the settlement public in every place in Eretz Yisroel. I will continue honoring them in my heart.”
SHAS IN NEAR DESPAIR
Bennett claims that he was forced to unite with Lapid out of fear that a Netanyahu-chareidi coalition would lock him out the government. A senior Habayit Yehudi official claims that before and immediately after the election campaign, his party tried to create a religious bloc with Shas, yet Deri refused to meet them, saying that Netanyahu felt the party belonged in the opposition.
“Deri threw us aside and we were forced to turn to Yair Lapid,” the official said. “The moment the chareidim heard that we had a pact with Lapid they asked to meet us.”
Shas representatives said that this was fictitious.
“It seems that Religious Zionist activists have a troubled conscience… As a hopeless defense they are spreading lies. Since the elections no one from the Bennett camp approached Deri. The only meeting between them was at Deri’s instigation and the subject of making a united bloc was not raised.”
Similarly, MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ claims that his party offered Bennett an alliance a month ago and was turned down.
At a meeting with Shas leaders on Sunday, Netanyahu said that he was very eager to have them in his third government, but “political complications” were making it difficult. The meeting dealt mainly with persuading Yachimovich to join the coalition. Chareidi leaders had been speaking to her during the previous week.
The Hamishpacha newspaper reports that during the discussion, Aryeh Deri said to Netanyahu, “With all due respect to all present, the only person responsible to bring Yachimovich into the government is yourself, Mister Prime Minister. The whole situation with Bennett and Lapid came about because of your handling of the situation and not because of us.”
“Aryeh, what you have done in my place?” Netanyahu responded.
Deri replied that two weeks earlier Shas made an agreement with Avigdor Lieberman and Likud negotiator Moshe Lion to have Likud-Beiteinu form a 55 member coalition with the chareidi parties and Hatnuah. The plan was to then challenge Bennett to join the almost completed coalition and raise it above 60 required members.
“But you suddenly retreated and climbed down the tree,” Deri said. “We cannot bring any solutions right now. The responsibility to form a government is yours and not ours.”
Netanyahu denied knowledge of the agreement, but agreed to work until the last moment to get Shas inside saying, “I am meeting with you for one purpose and that is to get your help in getting Yachimovich into the government.”
Although some Shas officials emerged from the meeting in a state of despair, Netanyahu still hopes to pull a rabbit from his hat. He has reportedly ordered his coalition team to make every effort to bring Yachimovich in and told Yachimovich that she has until the end of the week to present her conditions for joining him. Although there are reports that she is formulating such a document, she has stated in the past that for Netanyahu to accept her into his coalition, he would have to make policy changes tantamount to “renouncing his religion.” Not all members of her party are that staunch and it is reported that there may be an internal rebellion in her party “within the next few days.”
On Tuesday, the UTJ took the drastic step of proposing a law to dissolve the 19th Knesset that has barely begun to function.
“Based on the election results, the President gave the job of assembling a new government to the chairman of Likud Beiteinu, the reigning Prime Minister, MK Binyamin Netanyahu,” MK Uri Maklev of UTJ told the Knesset. “It seemed that the Prime Minister could quickly form a government uniting all political sectors from right to left, religious and non-religious, a broad government that would represent most of the residents of Israel.”
Netanyahu indeed said this was his intent, Maklev continued. But now that Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi who represent only 31 mandates out of 120 want to boycott the chareidim, “they are forcing the Prime Minister to set up a coalition through coercion and unwillingly.”
“Such a government would function as a government within a government and be unable to deal with burning relevant issues,” he said. “The government would be led by people who are inexperienced, and who act out of hate for others, suppression of people’s opinions, denial of minority rights, and lack of governmental power, while endangering the future economy and security of Israel. Therefore, I propose dissolving the 19th Knesset and holding new elections within 90 days from the day this law is accepted.”
Unfortunately, despite the drastic efforts of the chareidim to find an alternative to the Lapid Bennett nightmare, most political commentators believe that Netanyahu has actually decided to establish a government with the two of them and that present negotiations mainly concern the distribution of ministerial portfolios. But as Lapid himself remarked this week, “One must remember that Israeli politics is full of surprises.”