Another major factor in the coalition turbulence was Netanyahu’s attempt to push through a Jewish State Law, which many feared would elevate the state’s Jewish character at the expense of democracy. With the government’s collapse, chareidi parties rejoiced at the prospect of undoing the damage caused by Minister Yair Lapid and his cohorts over the past two years.
Legislation to dissolve the government was approved by a 93-0 vote. Over the weekend, there was talk of possibly forming a coalition comprised of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu, and the two chareidi parties, although UTJ and Shas denied that any deal was on the table. MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ called the claims “pure spinilogia.”
The decision to break up the government was precipitated by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s assertion that his Yisrael Beiteinu party would not help build an alternative coalition in the present government, and would only do so after new elections took place.
“Such a move, the establishment of an alternative government during this Knesset, would simply delay the inevitable, nothing else,” his party declared. “Forming a new government would result in a 61 MK majority, where every single lawmaker would be able to extort the government. This guarantees continued instability for the next year, and then we’ll go to elections after wasting billions more to shore up a shaky coalition.”
“A similar attempt was made before the last elections, when they bought in Kadima headed by Shaul Mofaz,” Yisrael Beiteinu recalled. “It collapsed after three months in a resounding failure.”
Netanyahu’s present government will continue to function until a new Knesset is convened two weeks after the new election. This is slated for March 17 (26 Adar), likely at the cost of around $500 million.
In the meantime, Yesh Atid ministers and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah moved over to the Opposition and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (64) of Likud announced that she will retire at the end of this term.
Chareidim were obviously delighted at the decision to hold new elections.
“A few minutes ago, the 19th Knesset disbanded and with it a government which deprived hope from complete sectors of the population,” MK Aryeh Deri of Shas declared. “Today, hope begins anew for a million hungry children of entire Israeli sectors which received no representation from the present government. We promise, with Hashem’s help, to return hope to you and not disappoint you. We will fight for you and not allow a recurrence of the harm that afflicted you in the past two years. Mazal tov.”
MK Yaakov Litzman took the opportunity to discuss the government’s “achievements” during the past two years.
“The early dispersal of the Knesset brings a feeling of relief to the citizens of Israel and especially to the chareidi public,” he said. “The19th Knesset will be remembered as the worst in Israel’s history. The Bibi-Lapid-Bennet and Lieberman coalition will be remembered as an eternal disgrace for causing harm to what Jews hold sacred.
“Yesh Atid came with the slogan ‘We came to change,’ and blamed the chareidim for all society’s problems,” he continued. “They promised that having a government without chareidim would change everything. [Such a government] would improve the economy, welfare, health, housing, food prices, the status of the middle class and the educational system.
“A year and eight months later, the only changes made are negative. Economic growth is negative, the number of poor has grown, and with that, the number of hungry children and old people. The health system and hospitals are collapsing, housing prices are breaking new records and the failed plan of 0% VAT only contributed to prices increasing even more. Food is getting pricier, the middle class cannot survive, and educational achievement has dropped based on all international measures and parameters.
“Today, one of the worst governments to rule here comes to an end,” he continued. “This government outcast and disqualified a million Israel citizens only because they wore black yarmulkes and had a chareidi appearance. It discriminated against children for being chareidi and established a goal of attacking and uprooting Jews’ sacred values. It was a government that had nothing to hold together components except for its hatred of chareidim.
“They cut child allowances, harmed the exempt institutions (schools completely not under the aegis of the education ministry), and annulled the Nahari law which obligated municipalities to pay for the water, electricity and cleaning cost of recognized but not official institutions (partially under the aegis of the education ministry). It almost completely cut off the budget for dormitory students in danger or distress, it cut off 600 million shekels from the basic budget of yeshivos and kollelim, and annulled the income insurance of about 11,000 avreichim from the lowest socioeconomic level.
“Aside from harming chareidim, Yesh Atid and the government achieved nothing in any arena,” he concluded. “Next time they try to persuade the public that the chareidim are to blame for society’s ills and the country’s shortcomings, we’ll remind them that not too long ago, there was a government that discriminated against chareidim, and things not only didn’t improve during that time, but were never worse.”
MK Moshe Gafni also pointed out that when chareidi ministers were in control in the previous government, no industries closed down, Israel’s credit rating rose constantly, and war was waged against unscrupulous tycoons.
“Now we have turned into paupers with a widening gulf between the rich and poor,” Gafni said.
After the government breakup, some MKs accused Netanyahu of timing the air attack against Hezbollah rockets in Syria to cover up his disgraceful leadership. MK Yifat Kariv of Yesh Atid said, for example, “Bibi has not managed to set up an alternative coalition so he decided to choose a path of terror and intimidation, and ignite the Middle East. Mr. Prime Minister, this time it won’t work.”
CHAREIDI PARTIES COMMITTED TO NONE
According to a survey of the Smith Institute, 62% of 500 people favored a government with no chareidi parties, and 74% opposed a new increase in yeshiva budgets. 57% of Likud voters and 71% of Labor voters opposed their party uniting with chareidim.
Chareidi parties meanwhile remain uncommitted to any Knesset party or bloc.
MK Moshe Gafni of UTJ stressed that his party put more weight on the public’s welfare than on political games.
“We of the chareidi parties work on the principle that if it is good for the wholepublic, [or] if it’s bad for the whole publiche said in an interview at the Knesset. “We work on it being good for everyone.”
“It’s true that we don’t like to have early elections; it’s not good for the economy, [and] it’s not good for the country, but sometimes there’s no choice,” he added. “They set up a government so bad, there was nothing like it since the country began and it deserves to be sent home. It achieved nothing in [regard to] peace, or in relations with the countries of the world such as the United States, Europe and others, and… in matters of economy and social issues it did nothing.”
“I would like to tell you a secret,” he said. “In UTJ it has been decided not to demand anything from anyone and not to make a covenant with anyone. You should know on full authority and in full sincerity [that]… when the elections are over and the results are on the table, we will then decide with whom to go, if anyone. We are not obligated to join any coalition. We have no coordinated position with Deri regarding this except for the fact that we agreed all the time that we wanted to break the government and go to elections.”
When asked if UTJ would consider joining a future coalition that includes Lapid, Gafni answered, “I said many times that when there was talk of joining a coalition with Lapid under Netanyahu, there was a ruling [of the gedolim] not to join the coalition and rightfully so,” he said. “What will be in the future? Do we disqualify anyone or prefer anyone? The answer is no. It could be the election results will come and Yair Lapid will be on the agenda. We’ll go to ask [the gedolim]… It may be that Yair Lapid won’t pass the electoral threshold, and there’ll be no such question. According to the rate that he’s dropping in surveys, perhaps he won’t pass the electoral threshold.”
The same rule applied to Netanyahu, Gafni added.
“We are saying nothing at all about this issue,” he said. “That which was done in the past, when no matter what we went with Likud, does not exist today. We could join with Buzi Herzog.
. “The behavior of the Likud and its leader, what he did to the country in general and what he did to us, [causes us to say that] if Buzi Herzog can set up a government, we’ll go with Buzi Herzog. I wouldn’t have said it two years ago. I didn’t say it six years ago and I didn’t say it twelve years ago. The difference is because of the behavior of the prime minister and the behavior of the Likud in general. The Labor party behaved much better.”
(In other interviews, Gafni said that the chareidi public would even go along with Labor’s opinions concerning the peace process.)
“The chareidi public has changed from what it was before,” he said. “It is not sectarian, it is concerned about the whole public, and it is… more in the center and is obligated to nothing except the benefit of the state and its voters.
“I have altered my stance in that I say here in this honored studio and also in the Knesset plenum that I’m not obligated to Netanyahu at all. I did not say such a thing in the past. On the contrary, because the traditional public was rightist, Rav Shach zt”l instructed us to go with the right. Today, the Likud has broken itself. In matters most critical and sacred to the Jewish people, he gave a hand to Lapid, and in other things, he also gave a hand to Bennett. We are not obligated to the Likud and not obligated to the prime minister.”
Gafni castigated Naftali Bennett but said that his negative attitude would not prevent UTJ from sitting with him in the future.
“The man and the party, whatever they took from our children he took for himself,” he said. “It didn’t go back to the treasury. When they took the money away from chareidi education, that money didn’t go back to the treasury. That money went to religious Zionist institutions. Religious Zionist institutions are swimming in money. We saw the latest survey that they get the most funding from the state… When I was chairman of the monetary committee, I took care of them. And one of the things Hashem hates is ingratitude. They behaved like wild animals.”
Despite this, UTJ would theoretically sit with them in a future coalition because “a coalition is a partnership of partners with different agendas. Each one has a different ideology. If there’s no choice, we’ll be with Bayit Yehudi in a coalition.”
Shas is also uncommitted to any party. Party head Aryeh Deri announced that his differences with past party leader Eli Yishai, who was threatening to start his own party in the past few weeks, are patched up and the party will not split. Deri said that Yishai would have second place in the party, after him.
“Shas is united, take it off the agenda,” he said. “There were a few problems between the couple [Yishai and me], but, as in every family, we reached an arrangement, boruch Hashem, and peace reigns in our home.”
DERI’S TWO CONDITIONS
Deri has established two conditions for joining any future coalition: to eliminate VAT from essential basic products and to raise the minimum wage to 30 shekels.
He reiterated this when Netanyahu promised to replace Lapid’s 0% VAT law with legislation removing VAT from certain basic products, which would benefit millions.
“I have an alternative plan: zero VAT on staple foods that are subject to price control,” Netanyahu stated at the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv. “This will help millions of people by accommodating their most basic needs through a more affordable consumption of bread, milk and eggs. It will help them save hundreds or even thousands of shekels each year. It would effectively slash the price of those items by 15 percent. Those who are the least well-off would save the most; this is what social justice is all about.”
Netanyahu said that the billion shekels saved by substituting this for Lapid’s housing plan would be invested into doubling the discharge grant of released soldiers to 60,000 shekels.
Aryeh Deri announced in response to Netanyahu’s promise: “I now heard the prime minister speaking at the Globes Business Conference about lowering VAT for food products. Mr. Prime Minister, reducing VAT on basic products is not an election slogan but is essential. Israel’s citizens are tired of promises and yearn for action! If you do not commit in these days to lowering VAT and raising the minimum wage to 30 shekels as part of your government’s guidelines and not just part of your election campaign, you will not set up the next government!”
Meanwhile, acting as Finance Minister since firing Lapid last week, Netanyahu transferred 70 million shekels to chareidi and religious schools, kollelim, and Torah institutions. At the same time, Yesh Atid, Shas and other parties blocked an attempt to transfer 120 million shekels to settlement needs.
CHAREIDI WOMEN: NO VOTES WITHOUT REPRESENTATION
A group of female chareidi activists sent an open letter to UTJ and Shas threatening not to vote unless there is female chareidi representation in the Knesset. About 3,000 members of a Facebook social network support the boycott so far.
“This is the moment for historic justice, and it’s in your hands,” the letter stated. “We are convinced that female representation will succeed in bringing our concerns to the Knesset in a fair and just manner. There are many talented chareidi women who would be happy to faithfully handle public needs.
“The time has come for us to receive the respect we deserve as primary bread-winners and as those who carry the world of Torah on our shoulders, in the form of appropriate female representation in the chareidi lists. We will respect any suitable female representative that you choose and we will feel that she is our emissary, the emissary of 50% of your voters.”
Signatories of the letter included Rocheli Ibenboim (29) of the Gur kehillah in Yerushalayim, Michal Chernovitzky (34) of Elad, and Esty Reider-Indorsky (42) of Ramat Gan.
In response to the letter, educationalist and modesty activist Motke Blau said that appropriate measures would be taken against this request. Rabbi Uri Regev, the Conservative head of the Chiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality organization, said that his organization would ask the Attorney General to investigate whether Blau’s threats contravene democratic law.
Some chareidim are urging Rav Ovadia’s Yosef’s daughter, Adina Bar Shalom, to run in the next elections, but she has not yet committed.
Chareidi women have worked as aides and bureau chiefs, but never as Knesset members.
BATTLE FOR THE SUCCESSION
Battle lines are already being drawn for Netanyahu’s challengers. By the time of the government’s collapse, Lapid and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog were already arguing who would be next prime minister as the head of a leftist bloc. But Herzog beat Lapid regarding the question of who would merge with Hatnuah in a coming election.
“The agreement is not yet finalized but Herzog would like to complete it within a few days,” a senior Labor official affirmed.
One survey indicated that a Labor-Hatnuah bloc would create the Knesset’s largest party in the next elections, whereas running on its own, Hatnuah would barely pass the electoral threshold. Together, Labor and Hatnuah would get 23 mandates, leaving Likud in second place with 21 mandates. On the other hand, if Labor and Hatnuah remain separate, Likud would come in first place with 21 mandates, and Labor would come in third with only 17.
The survey indicated that Bayit Yehudi would come second with 18 seats, Lapid would limp in with 12, and Yisrael Beiteinu would get 10 votes. The new “honest, non-corrupt” party being set up by Moshe Kachlon, a popular minister of Likud who just resigned to form his party, will receive 10 mandates if Labor and Hatnuah remain apart and 9 if they unite. UTJ will get 8 mandates, and Shas will shrink to 7 mandates.
Some parties have already arranged “surplus votes” arrangements whereby surplus votes are shared between two parties with similar ideologies. Jewish Home forged such an agreement with Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu made a similar deal with MK Moshe Kachlon’s new party. At the same time, the ruling Likud and Bayit Yehudi agreed not to attack each other in the upcoming elections.
“We have an arrangement where we don’t attack each other during these elections,” Bennett announced. “Last time I was strongly attacked by Likud, and ultimately we want to form a strong national bloc which, obviously in my opinion, is good for Israel.”
Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel and former MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari plan to run again under their Otzma Yisrael party, which failed to pass the electoral threshold during the last elections. If they persist, there is a good chance that their party might again fail to pass the electoral threshold, which would lose thousands of votes from the rightist cause.
In a surprising development, Anat Haskia, a Muslim Arab living in northern Israel whose three children served in the IDF, announced her candidacy to become a Bayit Yehudi MK which recently began going after secular and Druze votes. She is collecting the 500 signatures required to compete.
“As you know, I have decided to join the Bayit Yehudi party,” she wrote on Facebook. “In order to get on the list of candidates I need you to join. Together we will fight against the incitement emanating from the Arab community, and encourage more young Arabs to identify with the state of Israel.”
At the same time, despite his obvious preference for leftist parties, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced, “We will absolutely not involve ourselves in any way in the middle of the choice of the people of Israel.”
CHALLENGES TO NETANYAHU FROM WITHIN
After Netanyahu announced the government’s imminent breakup last week, the Likud party announced:
“The upcoming elections are about one issue only: who will be the next prime minister to lead the nation and the country, who is best suited to battle the security threats from Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic State…, who will know how to lead the Israeli economy to prosperity and growth and to a lower cost of living. The public knows that there is only one man who can lead the country in the face of these many challenges: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
But Netanyahu’s leadership of Likud will be challenged in the Likud primaries on January 6. MK Danny Danon has announced his candidacy for chairman, saying, “In the past few years, the Likud movement has gone astray. It’s time to both talk right and do right, in terms of security and politically, as well as socially and economically.” Netanyahu fired Danon from his position as central committee chairman when he criticized his handling of the Gaza War. MK Moshe Feiglin and former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar (who left politics in September) are also rumored to be planning to challenge Netanyahu.
According to a Haaretz poll, Likud would get 17 seats under Danon, 18 under Feiglin, and likely 20 under Netanyahu, who has lead the party since 2005, when Ariel Sharon left to create the Kadima party.
Due to Sa’ar’s sympathetic attitude towards chareidim in the past, a UTJ official said, “Gideon Sa’ar will have the full support from wall to wall of the chareidi parties in the Knesset if he is chosen to head Likud and appointed to set up the next government.” However, as mentioned earlier, chareidi MKs have made no official statements regarding whom they will support after the elections.
A survey asking “who is most fitting to be prime minister,” resulted in 26% of respondents favoring Netanyahu, 15% Herzog, and 11% favoring Naftali Bennett. On the other hand, when asked whether they wanted Netanyahu to take office again after the next elections, 65% of 500 Israelis polled said they did not want him to continue running the country.
Paying a nichum aveilim visit to Chief Rabbi Rav Yisroel Meir Lau after the passing of his older brother Naftoli Lavi Lau, Netanyahu summed up what he considers his role in protecting a sheep among seventy wolves.
“Your story is unique, the saving of the family, the saving of you both, the fact that he saved you as a small child,” he said to Rav Lau. “This is the story of our nation. Here is the story of our people. When was this? Seventy years ago, when they wanted to murder each one of us. The urge to destroy us has not changed.”