As for Israelis stuck at home, the only indication of their preferences are the sundry polls that often have vastly different results from one another. Giving a taste of what is happening, a poll of the Knesset radio station released on Monday indicated that so far the large parties are more or less as they were with Likud-Beiteinu getting 35 seats, Labor 17, and HaBayit Hayehudi 14. Shas, however, has fallen to only 9 seats from 11, less than the Yesh Atid party of Yair Lapid that is projected to get 11. The Hatnuah party of Tzipi Livni hovers at a low of 8 seats while UTJ and Meretz each get 5 and the Strength for Israel and Kadima parties 3. The three Arab parties combined are so far expected to get 10 seats altogether while the new Sephardic parties of Amnon Yitzchok and Chaim Amselam fail to pass the electoral threshold.
Throughout the election campaign, UTJ’s main platform has been the necessity of preventing the conscription of bnei yeshiva. On Friday morning Degel Hatorah held a meeting at the home of Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenitz, attended by about forty prominent roshei yeshivos who included Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Givat Shaul, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisroel, as well as roshei yeshiva of Ohr Elchonon, Kol Torah, and Mir.
Rav Yitzchok Scheiner spoke of the critical danger of conscription and its spiritual causes.
“This may be because of weakness in Torah learning — nothing happens without cause,” he said. “The danger is a heavenly message demanding us to strengthen our Torah learning and yiras Shomayim. However, this does not exempt us from acting according to the ways of nature to find a solution to the decree. We absolutely believe that Hashem will make an open miracle to annul the decree. We must do all we can, each one of us must give his utmost. We will do our part and Hashem will do His and have mercy upon us. In the merit of heeding the command of the leaders of the generation we will merit to fulfillment of the verse, Before they cry out, I will answer.”
Rav Aryeh Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, spoke of the importance of emunas chachomim at this vital time and emphasized the need to follow the “will of the Torah manhig [Rav Shteinman], which is the will of the Torah.”
On Motzoei Shabbos a rally was held in Bnei Brak where thousands of yeshivaleit converged on the famous Lederman Shul located next to Rav Chaim Kanievski’s home. As a sign of the urgency of the situation, this was the first political gathering Rav Kanievsky has attended in the past 24 years, since attending the founding rally of Degel Hatorah in 1989.
The approximately forty gedolim and roshei yeshiva present included Rav Aryeh Leib Shteinman, Rav Eliezer Piltz of Ofakim Yeshiva, Rav Nissim Karelitz, and Rav Gershon Eidelstein and Rav Boruch Dov Porvarski of Ponevezh. Rav Chaim Kanievski instructed a number of the attending rabbonim to cancel shiurim they deliver every Motzoei Shabbos– a hesped of a noted rov scheduled for that evening was also postponed – with the explanation that “the gathering was more important for Klal Yisroel.” During the preceding Shabbos, the event was publicized in shuls throughout Bnei Brak.
Thousands gathered, watching and listening to the droshos outside the shul on giant screens. One of the last speakers, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, son-in-law of Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, described the urgency of the situation with a story he heard from his grandfather, Rav Aryeh Levin.
“When the Ridbaz (Rav Dovid Wilovsky) was traveling to Slutzk [in 1890] to become its new rov, he wore a new silk coat in honor of the occasion,” he said. “His train stopped on the way next to Volozhin and he saw a large group of bochurim at the station.
“‘What happened?’theRidbaz asked.
“People told him that the Volozhin Yeshiva had just closed and that the bochurim were leaving by train. Immediately, the Ridbaz tore the new silk coat he had taken with him for his inauguration as rov of Slutzk, recited boruch dayan emes, and burst into unconstrained weeping. And all the Yidden on the train wept with him.
“May Hashem grant help that we never need to tear our clothes, chas veshalom,” Rav Zilberstein said. “Let us rather tear our hearts in fulfillment of the verse, Tear your hearts and not your garments. Let us cry out to Hashem that we should need to do kri’ah on our clothes.”
UTJ KIRYAT SEFER RALLY
On Monday evening, a large UTJ rally took place in Kiryat Sefer. A large crowd filled the local Ne’os Simcha hall where Rav Aharon Leib Steinman and prominent roshei yeshiva spoke of the importance of supporting UTJ. The event was opened by Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsh, Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka, who warned, “If the government sees that the tzibbur does not stand united around the Torah slate, it will think that there is no unity and compliance in our ranks and understand that it is possible to conscript yeshiva bochurim.”
Rav Aryeh Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, emotionally reminded the crowd that during this election campaign, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman said to join together la’amod al nafsheinu, to stand up and protect our lives. This intimates that voting and working for the UTJ’s success comes under the category of saving someone in a situation of piku’ach nefesh.
“Who is called an eved Hashem?” he asked. “One who does what he’s told. And who determines what to do? It is the one who establishes what is proper to do, and today it is Maran Rosh Yeshiva [Rav Shteinman]. The leader of the generation has the power of the Sanhedrin. Today, Rav Aharon Leib is the one who is leading the nation of Klal Yisroel. Only he is the one to decide. Those who disagree with him are like disagreeing with the Sanhedrin.”
The keynote speaker of the evening, Rav Shteinman, said that just as chillul Hashem is the greatest transgression, so kiddush Hashem is the greatest mitzvah. The more people that vote, he said, the greater kiddush Hashem and kavod Shomayim. Not voting, however, is a chillul Hashem, for under such circumstances the Knesset will gain a greater proportion of people who oppose the Torah. Opportunities for such a kiddush Hashem are a rare occurrence only available at election time.Rav Shteinman concluded with the tefillah that the great kiddush Hashem of this time should provide us with the zechus to withstand all evil decrees.
Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisroel, echoed Rav Finkel, stating, “This is not a chiddush at all. Is there anyone who feels otherwise? The rosh yeshiva [Rav Shteinman] is the manhig. He is thekoveia!”
Rav Ezrachi also spoke of the enormous potential of the Torah community.
“It is clear that there are enough Torah true Jews to get even more than seven mandates,” he said. “Our duty is to make sure that Jews realize this, for then we will be able to achieve this goal.”
Rav Boruch Weisbeker, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Mattisyahu, spoke of the position UTJ, with Rav Shteinman’s backing, has adopted with regard to conscription of yeshiva students:
“An arrangement with the government will establish that whoever learns in yeshiva or kollel will not be subject to army conscription,” he said. “The exemption of a learner will not be conditional upon anything, not the number of conscripts available, not the number of years he has learnt, and nothing else except his regular study in a yeshiva or kollel. The arrangement with the government will make it clear that anyone who continues learning and does not undergo conscription will not be subject to any personal claim.
“Civil law too will not consider this as a contravention of the law. Therefore, such a person will not be discriminated against regarding government benefits if he continues studying in yeshiva or kollel. No one studying in yeshiva or kollel will be conscripted. If the government acts against even one individual concerning this, we will raise a furor, enlist the whole Jewish world, and be moseir nefesh to prevent the conscription of even one person who wants to continue learning.”
MK Moshe Gafni concluded the evening by summing up UTJ’s achievements during its present candidacy. Saying they the success of the past few years was unprecedented he stated, “The chief reason for the incitement against the Torah world is because people see its growth.”
YESHIVOS AND THE ARMY
Last week, Rav Ovadia Yosef said if the conscription situation worsened, it might be necessary for bnei Torah to leave Israel.
“Chas veshalom, we will have to leave Eretz Yisroel for overseas to free the bnei yeshivos,” he said. “We are in great distress. Therefore, now is the time for each person to open his heart and vote for the parties that support the Torah… We are surrounded by enemies, surrounded by enemies, and these evil haters of Torah who wish to enact harsh and evil edicts upon us. We are in great distress.”
“I cannot sleep,” he added. “I suffer great sorrow because of this matter.”
Some of Rav Ovadia’s confidants blame this tension as contributing to a mild stroke he suffered on Shabbos morning.
“Like every night, the Rav learned until late at night,” one of his attendants said. “In the middle of the night it was already clear that the Rav had suffered some malaise but we did know what it was. In the morning when the Rav went to shul, he didn’t feel well. He went into his room and then we saw that something wrong with his left hand. A doctor in the shul went straight to the Rav’s room and told us, ‘The Rav has had a stroke!’ We immediately called Hatzolah, who took the Rav to hospital.”
Although doctors at Yerushalayim’s Hadassah Medical Center initially decided to hospitalize Rav Ovadia for several days and keep him under observation, he recovered so dramatically that he was sent home by Sunday morning. When a doctor wanted to test whether his memory had been impaired by the trauma, Rav Ovadia said to him with a smile, “Begin a line in Shas and I’ll continue it; you’ll see that I remember.” Rav Yosef suffers from high blood sugar and has undergone three angioplasties over the past years.
Sometime later, hundreds of people davening for Rav Ovadia’srefuah sheleimah at Kever Rochel were subjected to a barrage of stone throwing by local Arabs that ended up injuring a policeman.
“There was drama,” said one of the mispallelim. “We were in the middle of davening when we suddenly heard shouts of alarm and many people fled into the building. They told us that Arabs were throwing stones into the kever’s courtyard. We were terrified, but security forces managed to overcome them. There was the sound of shots – probably the shooting of rubber bullets.”
It is worth noting that regarding the conscription crisis, even the current government is presently on the side of the yeshivos. In response to petitions to the High Court demanding that the government order immediate chareidi recruitment due to expiration of the Tal Law that provided conditions for their exemption and demanding why the government recruitment plans only address youngsters who are becoming eligible for army service now and not older avreichim and bochurim, the State filed a brief last Tuesday saying that the IDF is incapable of absorbing too many bnei Torah at present and therefore, “a universal draft of chareidim is not necessarily in the best interest of the military.” After all, the Tal Law’s goal was to enlist 2,400 chareidim by 2015, while present demands want 19,500 of them inducted during the same period.
The brief explained that the strain of absorbing too many chareidim would force the IDF to invest considerable funds that would infringe on its ability to meet its primary missions and goals due to the need to build bases dedicated to the separation of men and women and create exclusively male battalions. In addition, the IDF would need to install all-male teams of interviewers, doctors, coordinators, and the like, in addition to creating aptitude tests suitable for the chareidi way of life.
As a matter of fact, chareidi conscription is increasing even without coercive laws. As Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon said in an interview last week: “In 2012, 2,400 ultra-Orthodox Jews enlisted, and in 1999, I took them into the army [as chief of
staff] as one platoon that totaled 100 soldiers. In 2007, they grew to 300, which is a battalion. Now we are talking about 2,400, and this year we will reach 3,000 conscripts.”
Despite this, it is difficult to see how the Knesset will formulate an enlistment law that satisfies Israel’s High Court without forcibly coercing yeshivaleit to exchange theirshtenders for the rifle and brigade.
The conscription issue is also a plank of secular parties. Yair Lapid, leader of the Center-Left Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, has vowed that he will not sit in a government that does not draft eligiblechareidim.
“We will not sit in a government that does not draft the chareidim and doesn’t integrate them into the workforce,” he said. “They can’t sell us the idea that it’s complicated. It’s not complicated. Everyone should enlist. Or to military service, or to civil service. And everyone should study the core curriculum, and everyone should work.”
“We will not accept another fudging of the issue as happened with the Plesner committee,” he added, accusing Netanyahu, Shelly Yachimovich of Labor, and Naftali Bennet of HaBayit Hayehudi of doing little or nothing about the issue.
In an interview in Haaretz, MK Moshe Gafni who has represented United Torah Judaism (UTJ) in the Knesset since 1988, explained some of the challenges faced by his party besides the army issue.
Answering why the number of voters for UTJ has not increased over the years commensurate to the chareidi sector’s population growth, he said he did not know.
“This is an excellent question that we’ve been unable to answer for some years now,” he said. “There are fewer chareidi voters, and I’m not talking about the radical fringes, who boycott the elections. I don’t know why chareidim refrain from voting for us, but I hope this trend will be reversed thanks to our many achievements in the Knesset Finance Committee, the Health Ministry and the plentiful private legislation that we have initiated in the Knesset. I hope that one day your question will not be relevant.”
Explaining why he thinks the coming election is pivotal for the chareidi community in history, he said that Israel is presently at the crossroads in its relationship to religion and religious people.
“What you have to understand is that there’s a shrinking minority of atheists who think that the Jewish people should be like the French or the English, without any Jewish character,” he said. “It’s a minority that used to be hegemonic and therefore feels that the country is slipping through their fingers. Most Israelis now believe in G-d. The numbers are unprecedented. Most Israelis think that we are the Chosen People and that we aren’t a nation like all others. And who do these people blame for it? The chareidim, because we are very happy with this trend and encourage it…
“Whether this election is critical to the relation between religion and state, the answer is yes,” he added. “It’s the first time I’ve witnessed the Knesset debating the very basics. The struggle between the chareidim and the anti-clerical minority is in full swing, and is likely to be decided during the term of the next Knesset, especially on the issue of yeshiva students, who have been the backbone of the Jewish people throughout history. Maintaining that is our most cherished cause.”
Asked what will happen when the chareidim become the majority population of Israel as demographic models predict, Gafni said:
“When it comes to minority rights, my record speaks for itself. I’ve been a member of the house for the past 23 years, and Arab MKs say I’m one of the few Jewish members who never uttered one racist idea. Everybody knows that the Finance Committee under my chairmanship helped minority communities, investing in infrastructure and education there. It’s a halachic and moral duty to help minorities in Israel. This apocalyptic question — what we’ll do when we take over — is unwarranted. We’ve had only five Knesset seats for many years, so no need to panic…
“About military service, for most of their history the Jewish people were at war,” he added. “Half of the people fought and the other half studied Torah. I’m all in favor of continuing this arrangement.”
HIGH COURT ASKS: WHY ARE YESHIVA STUDENTS STILL RECEIVING GOVERNMENT FUNDING?
On Tuesday, Israel’s High Court issued an injunction obligating the state to explain why 54,000 yeshiva students are still receiving various government benefits after the Tal Law that legalized their deferment from the army expired in August. The court also demanded to know why the government altered criteria for receiving the benefits to continue paying them.
This was in response to a petition human rights organizations submitted to the High Court arguing that benefit packages should not be provided to students who are evading army service in contravention of the law. As an example of this, the petition claimed that the state pays considerable funding to 28-year-old students with three or four children. In addition, students began receiving substantial housing stipends this year.
“The question is not whether the yeshiva students can study Torah or not, it is whether they should be given support to do so,” Justice Miriam Maor explained. “If the military deferment is done according to the law then there is nothing to prevent giving benefits packages. But if the deferment is not kosher then no benefit package should be given.”
NETANYAHU REJECTS SHAS ADVANCES
In contradiction to Monday’s poll, a fluke polling last week came up with the mistaken statistic that the Ko’ach Lehashpia (Power to Influence) party of the well-know kiruv personality, Rav Amnon Yitzchak was slated to win four seats. Even if he gets no seats as most polls predict, Shas is concerned that he is draining Sephardic voters from Shas ranks. Running under the slogan, “Return Power to the People,” his platform promises to reduce the price of bread to one shekel, utilize the lands of kibbutzim to build apartments for young couples, abolish VAT on basic products, provide cheaper medicine, and reduce the price of fuel.
Another politician draining votes from Shas is Chaim Amselam who left Shas while serving as one of its MKs in the present government. He formed the Whole Nation party whose secular-religious platform aims at uniting the secular and religious sectors, separating religion from politics but not from the state, encouraging chareidim to join the workforce, and supporting IDF conversions even when participants are not committed to keeping halachah.
At the same time, Shas is losing many voters who were traditionally aligned with Likud before Shas existed. They and other erstwhile Shas supporters now regard it of paramount importance to support Netanyahu in his struggle against the Palestinians and Iran. Indeed, this is a major reason why Shas is insistent that it will join a Likud coalition despite Netanyahu’s rejecting attitude.
Shas initiatives in this direction include a letter the three Shas leaders, Aryeh Deri, Eli Yishai, and Ariel Atias sent to Netanyahu urging him to sign a pact to preserve the religious character of Israel and sign a personal commitment that he is committed to the preservation of Israel’s Jewish character. The letter complained that Netanyahu’s partner, Yisrael Beiteinu, has “the opposite values” of the Likud, and that “there are now signs that a Left coalition is forming, in which the Likud would be lead by the Lapid-Livni duo.”
In light of these dangers, Shas wanted Netanyahu to commit to four principles: maintaining Israel’s status quo in matters of public religious observance, preventing quickie-conversions, civil marriage legislation, and public transportation on Shabbos.
“We demand that the Prime Minister clarify his position before the elections,” Shas demanded.
So far, unsurprisingly, Netanyahu has failed to put his name to the Shas deal.
During aninterview this Motzoei Shabbos, Aryeh Deri raised the urgency of Shas joining Likud a notch, calling on Netanyahu to arrange a coalition agreement with Shas.
“Why isn’t Netanyahu agreeable to accepting Shas as his natural partner?” he demanded. “For two or three months I have een bshouting from every podium that the voters of Shas accept… Netanyahu as Prime Minister. On the other hand, I hear from the heads of Likud including Netanyahu himself, that there are certain chareidi parties negotiating with the Left. We already know these kinds of spins.”
“Call me,” he appealed to Netanyahu. “I am ready to come to your home and agree to enter your government. Likud voters should know that Netanyahu prefers a government with the Left-Center and not with his natural partners. I figure that the day after the elections, Netanyahu will find that we are his natural partners.”
Likud responded with a slap in the face, saying, “The public needs to remember how Deri joined up with the left at the time of the Oslo agreements; anyone who votes for Shas is liable to find it in a coalition with the left.”
The Shas response to this rebuff was no less aggressive.
“Likud-Beiteinu has already closed a deal with Lapid and Livni,” Shas claimed. “The Likud-Beiteinu evasions of giving a clear answer to voters about the future coalition mean a Likud-Lapid government like the one established in 2003, without Shas, which brought harsh decrees and damage to tradition. We have already declared that we will recommend to the president to tap Netanyahu to form the government. Only a strong Shas in the government will force Netanyahu not to ignore the weaker strata of society.”
Despite Shas’s willingness to link up with Netanyahu, Aryeh Deri stated this week that before recommending Netanyahu as Prime Minister to the president, he will first demand a Likud-Beiteinu agreement not to conscript yeshiva students and to not cut welfare funds. Without that, he said, there will be nothing to speak about.
At the same time as Shas was tirelessly pursuing Netanyahu, some religious leaders of Shas were attempting to create a united religious bloc that would agree or refrain in unison from joining a Netanyahu coalition. Signed by Rav Moshe Maya and Rav Meir Mazoz of the Shas Council of Torah Sages as well as leaders of the religious Zionist movement including Rav Shmuel Eliyahu and Rav Yosef Bagad, the letter appeals upon religious parties to “establish a joint team among all the religious parties to preserve the Jewish character of the coalition after the election through negotiations. Similarly, we support the initiative that the religious parties either agree to join the government together, or refrain from joining the coalition together.”
CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION VIDEOS
Last Tuesday night saw the launching of an old Israeli election tradition of devoting seven minutes of free television time for propaganda of each Israeli party during the last two weeks before the elections. Even chareidi parties devoted resources to this media effort in the hope of garnering votes from non-committed Jews. Since each ethnic, religious, or political group in Israel goes by the principle of conquer or be wiped out, it was no surprise that many of the videos swiftly generated fierce controversy – perhaps intentionally designed to do so – for after all, controversy garners far more publicity than the most skillfully designed advertisement.
One controversial video was Shas’s graphic warning of what might happenif the mostly Russian Yisrael Beiteinu party (part of the Likud-Beiteinu bloc) achieves its declared goal of easing conversion requirements for Israel’s approximately 320,000 non-Jewish immigrants from the former USSR. The video depicts a naÃ¯ve looking Israeli wedding a Slavic bride. A fax machine stands prominently in the foreground.
“Groom: ‘Marina, what is the fax for?’
“Bride: ‘Beiteinu sent it, a wedding present.’
When the bride explains that the fax is to expedite a quickie conversion process the chosson gets nervous.
“Wait, you aren’t Jewish?”
To which the bride replies in unison to the fax machine spitting out an instant conversion certificate: “I am now!”
Last Tuesday, MK Nino Abesadze of the Labor Party complained to the Central Election Committee about the ad, saying that, “The Shas broadcast is racist and presents the immigrant population in a ridiculous light.”
(Intriguingly, last year when Arab MK Ahmad Tibi hurled an insult against Russian women at MK Anastassia Michaeli of Yisroel Beiteinu, the left never breathed a word of complaint.)
To Abesadze’s complaint, Shas replied, “Nothing bad was said about anyone in the broadcast. The issue of mixed marriages and fake conversions can lead to assimilation and loss of the state’s Jewish identity. A country that fights assimilation abroad cannot allow assimilation at home. The ad is meant to highlight the insufferable ease with which it is possible to enter a mixed marriage, under the auspices of a law that [Yisroel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor] Lieberman, one of the leaders of Likud-Beiteinu, promoted. Following the positive responses we’ve received from former Likud voters, we plan to continue to run the ad tomorrow, too.”
But in the end, Shas agreed to drop the ad.
The same happened to another Shas ad depicting the party’s efforts tohelp Israel’s elderly. It depicted a number of neglected looking elderly people to the backdrop of Shas leader Aryeh Deri declaring, “A mom is a mom, a dad is a dad, there is nothing in the world that can replace them. It is our duty, as sons and daughters, to take care of our parents, and to make sure the State of Israel provides them with welfare so they can age with dignity.”
Trouble began when the family of one woman featured in the video, 9 year-old Edna Yosef, complained to the Central Elections Committee that the woman was properly cared for and therefore, the ad was “cynical and manipulative exploitation of the elderly woman, as well as a breach of privacy and an act of defamation.” While admitting that the woman’s mind is not clear and she did not remember whether she had granted permission for the filming, the family maintained that, “Even if consent was received, this was not informed consent.”
This video was also pulled.
Some people went as far as complaining that Rav OvadiaYosef’s weekly Motzoei Shabbos droshah broadcast on KolBeramah radio was a form of unauthorized publicity for Shas. Although the Election Council rejected these appeals, Rav Yosef’s weekly droshah was delivered by his son Rav Yitzchok as discussed later in this article.
This week, Shas decided to bring out a weapon it was hesitant to use until now for fear of public criticism — a campaign ad that features Eli Yishai’s uncompromising battle against infiltrators from Africa. The party also released a video titled Ani Maamin, which is an echo of the video clip titled Ani Ma’ashim (I Accuse), released in hundreds-of-thousands when Aryeh Deri was about to be jailed in 2000.
Since no chareidi voters would be viewing their media ads, UTJ’s ad concentrated on its fight for Israel’s minorities and disadvantaged.
More controversial was an appeal of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman that was quashed on Sunday by Israel’s Education Ministry.
“Due to the difficult situation prevailing in Eretz Yisroel that is known to all,” Rav Aharon Leib wrote,”I ask each and every head of a yeshiva or kollel to gather and fight for our lives at this time, and arouse their talmidim and followers that each one must act and influence others to vote for UTJ whose letter is gimmel, for our lives are at stake.”
In reaction, the Education Ministry issued an official letter stating, “In advance of the 19th Knesset election I would like to remind you that it is an absolute prohibition for a public institution supported by the state, including by the Religious Institutions Department of the Ministry of Education, to be involved in election propaganda or any political mobilization for a party.”
The ministry demanded that the talmidim remain inside their yeshivos all the hours of learning registered at the ministry and keep occupied in learning during these hours with no electoral activities.
LIKUD’S BALANCING ACT
As noted at the beginning of the article, the number of Likud-Beiteinu seats has so far stabilized at about 35. The Likud-Beiteinu’s dilemma is presenting itself as right enough for the Right, but not so far Right as to endanger Israel’s diplomacy with the outer world.
Last week, Likud got a shot in the arm when an old opponent decided to swap sides. Danny Dayan, presently resigning his position as head of the Yesha (Yehuda and Shomron) Council, said that although he criticized Netanyahu for the 10 month settlement construction freeze he started in late 2009, Netanyahu was still a positive force for the area.
“There has never been a construction push like there is now,” he said. “For the sake of settlement, I think we need to support [Netanyahu].”
He warned that by weakening Netanyahu and the Likud, the far Right’s criticism of Netanyahu could empower the Left and lead to worse results.
“Today I recall my sins,” he told Arutz Sheva. “In 1992 I was the secretary of Techiya [a Knesset faction] and together with Geula Cohen and Elyakim Haetzni we brought down [Prime Minister] Shamir over something silly [resulting in Shamir’s replacement by Yitzchak Rabin who created the Oslo Accords]. We brought Oslo on ourselves. We’re likely to make the same mistakes today.”
“The [Yehuda and Shomron] resident committees have been publishing movies that compare Netanyahu to Arik Sharon…. I’m afraid of where this will lead us,” he added. “Yes, three houses were destroyed in Migron, I was there and I cried together with the families, but when they say that because of what happened in Migron, Tzipi Livni is preferable [to Netanyahu] — that will bring the Left to power.”
On the other side of the fence, the Binyomin Residents’ Council issued a video describing Netanyahu and Lieberman’s official support for a two state solution as well as Netanyahu’s rejection of the Levy Report, which concluded that international law allows Jews to live in the Yehuda and Shomron territories since these lands were not part of any nation in 1967.
“Netanyahu, unlike new parties or those who were never in power, can be tested according to his deeds,” the council said last Thursday. “Even though he did many good things for the settlement enterprise, during the most important and fundamental tests he acted contrary to his statements. We note in the video that if he declares that he will adopt the Levy Report and denies the statement made by his party member Lieberman, things will look different. Currently, there is a great danger that Netanyahu is planning measures that will tear apart the settlement enterprise and, as a public service, we present this to the voters.”
As a counterpoint to this sort of complaint, far Right Likud candidate Moshe Feiglin echoed Naftali Bennet’s statement two weeks ago that when it comes to evacuating Yehuda and Shomron, there are some laws that should be disobeyed.
“Just last week, we read in Kriyas HaTorah about the Hebrew midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s order,” he said. “Sometimes, one must not obey.”
But Likud-Beiteinu was quick to announce that this statement did not represent the party position and that its leaders “consider the refusal of orders to be a dangerous phenomenon that harms the state and the Israel Defense Forces.”
At the same time as it issued this denouncement, Likud-Beiteinu was careful to emphasize that the party has no intention of evacuating settlements in Yehuda and Shomron.
In an effort to weaken Likud-Beiteinu, the Left has enlisted public figures to disparage the party and its leaders. Yediot Acharonot printed a long tirade against Netanyahu by Israel’s former Shin Beit chief, Yuval Diskin, who claimed that from his personal experience it was clear to him that Netanyahu does not have the right stuff to be a leader.
Last week, President Shimon Peres warned that rightist policies would lead to war, saying: “The silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world.”
More recently, Ehud Olmert climbed onto the bandwagon, criticizing Netanyahu for wasting money on Israel’s defense.
Money is one of Likud’s weak spots. Money is the official reason Netanyahu called for early elections in the first place – the difficulty of passing a punishing annual budget through the Knesset. Rather than face elections after making an austerity budget that cuts deep into social spending and has no tax cuts, Netanyahu considered it wiser to precede the elections from October 22nd later this year to January 22nd this month. But the budget problem hasn’t gone away. The Finance Ministry just publicized as an initial estimate that the government overshot its target deficit for 2012 by 39 billion shekels ($12 billion) – almost double than the initially forecasted 18.3 billion shekels. This will require a huge budget cut.
Defense takes 17% of Israel’s budget, about 10 times that of a typical European nation. In light of this, Ehud Olmert accused Netanyahu of wasting money on preparations for an attack against Iran that never materialized.
“Over the last two years we have spent more than NIS 11 billion (more than $3 billion) of the defense budget on delusional adventures that were never implemented and never will be,” he said. “2012 was a crucial year, that’s what they told the whole world. They frightened the whole world and fought the whole world on this issue, and in the end did nothing. We can’t continue to frighten the public on this issue and we have to cut the defense budget.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that it was grossly irresponsible of Peres to divulge confidential security information and that Israel’s investment in defense was in any case a better idea than the billions spent on the disengagement from Sinai.
“Over the weekend, somebody criticized my government over the investments we made in security,” he said. “Indeed, in contrast to governments that invested billions in the disengagement, we invested billions in building up our strength so as to ensure the security of Israel’s citizens. We invested and we will continue to invest in Iron Dome, which stopped the missiles, in the security fence in the south, which stopped the infiltrators, in cybersecurity and in the offensive and defensive capabilities of the IDF, Mossad and ISA.”
“It is no coincidence that the security situation in the country is the best it has been in years and this is in the face of the great security upheaval around us and in our region,” he added. “I would like to commend the ministers who dealt with the issue and the government for backing the important operations to ensure the security of Israel’s citizens.”
In an interview he stressed that the security spending was essential to show that Israel meant business.
“Most of the world leaders who agreed to impose sanctions on Iran did so because they knew we were developing our own attack capabilities. If there is anything that led the world to impose severe sanctions on Iran it is the knowledge that we are serious, that we are determined to defend ourselves if necessary using our own capabilities… Iran has been stopped for now, just short of the red line I described at the U.N. I never said the goal has been accomplished.”
In the final analysis, no matter how much leftists attack Netanyahu for his lack of interest in the peace process and his gung ho attitude to Iran, they won’t have much influence on most Israelis who believe that peace with Palestinians is presently an impossible dream.
A recent poll issued by the Peace Index indicated that some 67% agree with the assertion that the peace process with the Palestinian Authority will remain jammed for the foreseeable future for reasons unconnected to Israel. A poll of the Geocartographia Organization found that 45% of Israelis are opposed to the whole idea of a PA state in Yehuda and Shomron. Only 40% still supported it and 14% did not answer the question.
To upset this trend, the Palestinian leadership has been threatening an “unavoidable” third intifada in the event of the Right winning the next elections and PA President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly threatened to disband the PA if Netanyahu doesn’t bend to his will.
“If there is no progress even after the election I will take the phone and call [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu,” Abbas said, “I’ll tell him…Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.”
To make things worse, England and France are reportedly drawing up a new detailed peace plan they intend to force on Israel after the elections, which will be designed to “bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital” and include “clear timetables for the completion of the negotiations on all the core issues in the course of 2013.” King Abdullah of Jordan also believes Israel will be negotiating with the Palestinians next month.
All this is unlikely to change the public mindset. As Ya’alon told the Haaretz paper: “The public doesn’t buy it. In the past, they tried to sell us hope, and it brought us the delusion, alongside terrorism, that claimed 1,000 lives. Then they tried to sell us on the notion that if we left Gaza, it will bring quiet. This also turned out to be a delusion, and we woke up with thousands of rockets.”
Netanyahu is probably slated to be Prime Minister. But whether his future government will turn Right or Left remains to be seen.