“Netanyahu chose to go with the radical right wing and not with us. He left us with no choice but to disrupt the partnership and return to the opposition.”
He claimed he was trying to put together a “new social contract,” but instead was presented with “red lines” that couldn’t be crossed.
“We are going back with our heads held high to lead the nation in the opposition,” he declared.
In his letter to Netanyahu, Mofaz wrote, “Due to small-minded political considerations, you cast your lot with the chareidim, instead of with the Zionist majority. With your actions and follies, you chose to run away from the battle.
It is with regret that I say that you lack the willingness, determination, courage and leadership to fill your current duties.”
In a letter to Mofaz, Netanyahu expressed regret over the decision.
“I am sorry that you decided to give up the opportunity to bring about a historic change. After 64 years, we were very close to a significant change in spreading the burden. I gave you a proposal to achieve a chareidi and Arab draft at age 18 and I explained to you that the only way to implement this is gradually and without tearing up the Israeli society. I will continue to work to bring a responsible solution.”
Due to this new development, there is little likelihood that any yeshiva-enlistment law will be promulgated in the near future. In the absence of such a law, when the Tal Law that has exempted yeshivaleit expires at the end of this month, the Defense Service Law that applies to the entire Israeli populace will come into effect. Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that he will utilize this law to increase the enlistment of chareidim starting next month.
A DRAMATIC WEEK
Mofaz’s break with Likud is the culmination of a dramatic weeklong controversy.
“Netanyahu has surrendered,” headlines shrieked last Tuesday evening. At the time, Israeli media claimed that Likud and Kadima had reached a deal, agreeing to impose personal fines on bochurim who refuse to enlist.
“We felt our world had crashed around us,” MK Moshe Gafni said of those painful hours.
“On Tuesday, it seemed clear to us that the worst was to occur,” he recalled.
“Netanyahu had at last surrendered to Mofaz and thrown us to the dogs. As far as we were concerned, he was turning into the wicked Haman. We told him exactly that and we began putting on pressure. We contacted all the senior officials and made it clear that we were not the prime minister’s cannon fodder… I asked the prime minister’s people how they would feel when my children and I demonstrated before them in sack and ashes. They would be remembered as the persecutors of Judaism for generations. Antiochus would be nothing compared to them.”
Maybe the headlines were a mistake. Perhaps Netanyahu had a change of heart, but Netanyahu has now rejected the Kadima enlistment policies.
A DEAD END
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu dissolved the Plesner Committee that was advocating aggressive enlistment policies after a number of its panelists walked out. But last Sunday, Netanyahu backtracked when Mofaz threatened to remove his Kadima party from the coalition and a giant pro-enlistment protest rally took place in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu then accepted the panel’s recommendations as the basis for a yeshiva draft law.
Likud representative MK Yochanan Plesner and Likud representative Vice Premier Moshe Ayalon were to finalize the panel’s recommendations by last Wednesday in time for a first reading in the Knesset this past Sunday or Monday, followed by a finalized conscription law by the end of the month. This never happened.
Last Wednesday, Plesner walked out of the discussions, declaring that the talks had reached a dead end. He blamed the prime minister for changing his mind on all the important points of the law due to pressure from chareidi factions.
“If the prime minister continues the Likud-Shas path, which maintains the status quo in which chareidi men don’t have an obligation to serve in the IDF, it will be hard to prevent the model of the people’s army from crashing,” he said. “On the other hand, he has an opportunity to adapt the plan I presented that would require every citizen to serve.”
Moshe Ayalon, on the other hand, insisted that Plesner’s harsh measures would have the opposite effect, and would end any chance of chareidim enlisting in the army.
“We need to do this gradually, because the army can’t prepare itself to absorb masses of chareidim in one day, and we don’t need to start putting people in jail because of this,” he explained. “We want unity along with the draft, and not a civil war without a draft. If we declare war on those studying Torah and say that we’ll arrest whoever doesn’t enlist, then we won’t succeed in drafting anyone.”
“My way is a modest one,” he added. “The numbers of chareidim who have been enlisting are encouraging. Last year, nearly 2,400 [compared to only 300 in 2007] enlisted and our proposal is to recruit 6,000 in 2017. I would love to see chareidim join the army, because special tracks for chareidi soldiers have been launched in recent years and are considered very successful. They need a special atmosphere to work within, but I believe that this is the way to integrate between the chareidim and the rest of the Israeli public.”
Likud accused Plesner’s objections as being motivated by political considerations, supporting their contention with a draft proposal that half the Kadima party signed two months ago that is very close to Likud’s current position.
What points of disagreement between Likud and Kadima led to Plesner’s walkout?
Initially, there were three issues First, Kadima wants to create a ceiling of how many yeshiva students will be permitted by law to remain in the bais medrash – 1,500 and no more – while Likud preferred setting non-enforceable enlistment targets. Second, Kadima wants to lower the maximum age for exemption to 23 while Likud wanted it to be 26. Third, Kadima wants to impose penalties against yeshiva people who don’t enlist, including a preliminary fine of up to 7,500 shekels ($1,900), in addition to a fine of 75 shekels for each additional day of absence from army service.
After much debate, Likud and Kadima compromised on issues one and three. They could not come to an agreement on the second issue concerning maximum exemption age.
Despite several party members urging Mofaz to leave the coalition, he said he decided to give Netanyahu another chance.
“Without a meaningful solution that will make history, we will not remain in the government,” Mofaz told Kadima. “We are in a crisis, but there is an opportunity and a small period of time to solve it. If there won’t be a decision soon, we will leave.”
A decision to remain with Likud would have been pragmatic. His 28 strong Kadima party’s popularity was so eroded in the recent past that just before Kadima joined the Likud coalition, it was estimated that it would garner only four seats in an election. Thanks to the press adulation of Mofaz in the past few weeks since he started beating up on the chareidim, his party’s ratings rose to about ten seats.
It was widely presumed that if Mofaz quit, his party would fall to pieces. A number of Kadima MKs are expected to remain with Netanyahu’s coalition even now that Mofaz has pulled out and another group will reportedly serve as part of a brand new center party under MK Tzipi Livni. Those who remain with a reduced Kadima may no longer regard Mofaz as their leader. Some in his party urged him to remain in the coalition and continue the enlistment fight at a more favorable time. Other MKs announced Monday that they would leave even if Mofaz decided to remain in the coalition.
MK Otniel Schneller was quick to reach out to the chareidi community after Mofaz made his announcement.
“I want to clarify,” he said, “that the chareidim are not an enemy of the people. They are part of us. We are the right hand and left hand, one body, one heart, her soul.”
“The main goal should be the unity of our people, to connect everyone and not create division. The remaining gaps were small and could have been bridged. I regret very much that my party has left the coalition.
“We must bear in mind that we are currently in the period of The Three Weeks, and on the eve of Tisha B’Av. Hatred and division caused the Bais Hamikdosh to be destroyed, so we should have stayed in the government and working everything out together, in harmony and cooperation.”
Netanyahu knew he could also suffer from Kadima leaving. The walkout leaves him with a far smaller coalition to address the country’s important issues. This was reflected in his conciliatory words at a Likud meeting on Sunday after the enlistment talks were taken over by attorneys Alon Gellert and David Shomron of Kadima and Likud respectively. When Mofaz repeated his threat to resign in the face of the lawyers’ minimal progress, Netanyahu once more urged patience.
“I set up a national government to solve this problem,” he said. “We could easily have gone to elections without solving it. But I thought the national government’s goal is to reach an agreed, gradual process that would yield a successful result. I hope the major forces in the government, i.e., Likud and Kadima, will unite to bring about the desired result.”
Sources close to Mofaz had said that if nothing happened to end the conflict with Likud, Mofaz would seriously consider quitting on Tuesday and he did just that.
Those who had opposed the coalition from the start were especially pleased.
“Bibi time and again proves the lack of credibility and lack of leadership,” said one of the dissidents, Shlomo Mulah. “Unfortunately, the prime casualty of this is the public, who have suffered repeated disappointments. The strange cooperation with this evil government is over, and I urge the public to stop being misled by Bibi’s empty promises.”
On Monday evening, Netanyahu had tried to prevent a breakup by submitting a proposal that bridged the parties’ disagreement regarding maximum deferral age. He suggested that those who enlist after 23 would not be eligible to enlist in the army but only into various civil services. Mofaz rejected this vehemently.
The office of Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced immediately after the coalition breakup that he would be increasing the enlistment of chareidim in August.
“Because of the failure to reach an alternative arrangement to the Tal Law, the situation reverts to what it was before the enactment of the Tal Law and the Defense Service Law of 1986, which sets out the provisions of enlistment will come into effect,” Barak’s office announced. “The August recruitment of chareidim will be implemented with expanded range, based on staff work and preparations for IDF enlistment conducted last year by the IDF, in accordance with the goals set by the government.”
“Over the next three months,” the statement added, “the Defense Ministry will formulate a temporary legislative proposal that will be submitted to the government and then to the Knesset. This temporary proposal will accord with the orders of the Supreme Court, the needs of the IDF, the justified demand for equality in the burden [of army service], and will remain in effect until permanent legislation provides a complete solution to the issue.”
It was also announced that “the defense minister has instructed the army to consider the possibility of expanding the enlistment tracks for chareidim and adding additional tracks for their enlistment.”
Without Kadima, Netanyahu seems pessimistic about any new law proposal having much chance of success.
“At the moment, there are three possibilities,” he said earlier this week. “We will either reach an agreement with Kadima and pass the law together, or, a second possibility is that we pass our own law that will not garner a majority, but will express our stand, and a third option is to push it through as a proposed bill, and if it fails, the army will enlist according to its needs.”
Although the Knesset is supposed to begin its three-month recess on June 25, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said Monday that he would delay the recess to enable the passage of a new army bill.
“This is a topic that requires a decision, and the Knesset cannot cut its discussions short while it is being written, just because of the summer recess,” he said. “This topic is of great public importance, and the Knesset cannot ignore it.” Whether this will apply now that the coalition has broken up remains to be seen.
PLEADING WITH HEAVEN
Chareidim have continued protesting against any form of forced enlistment. The Shas newspaper issued an editorial threatening that if this happened, chareidim would file charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the Hague, plunge Israel into chaos and anarchy, disrupt Germany’s sale of submarines to Israel, organize demonstrations, civil disobedience and tax revolt, and leave the country in droves.
The paper also mentioned an additional problem of chareidi enlistment – the danger that the melting pot of the army might blunt or destroy yeshivaleit’s devotion to Torah and mitzvos. For a start, the current policy of having women serve in the IDF is problematical at all levels. Also, many of the over twenty percent of the national religious youth who leave Torah and mitzvos do so as a result of army service. Is there prospect for change? Various elements of the army still complain that there are too many religious officers in its ranks, revealing an unwillingness to change its secular atmosphere.
Dozens of roshei yeshiva spoke of the importance of increased devotion to Torah learning at this crucial time. In response to an appeal from Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, tens of thousands of children, some accompanied by their fathers, made their way to shuls to recite Tehillim and daven for a rescinding of the decree. Hundreds of bochurim and avreichim responded to Rav Aharon Leib’s appeal to arrange continuous learning for three days and nights in accordance with the counsel of the Ramchal who writes of its effectiveness in allaying evil decrees.
On Monday afternoon, the Eidah Hachareidis held a second anti-conscription demonstration at Kikar Shabbos, attended by some 5,000 members of Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, Satmar, and other groups. Hundreds of children were handcuffed together to “express loudly the pain of chareidi Jews in Israel and abroad.” They also wore stickers that stated, “Tatte,Mamma, save me from falling into the destruction of military or army service.”
A banner stretched over the intersection read, “Our children are more beloved to us than anything, and they will not be the Cantonists of the government.” Another banner read, “We will die as Jews rather than surrender in order to serve in military or national service.”
“We want this cry to go up to Hashem so he will hear our wailing and save us,” one organizer said. “We are bound only by the instructions of our rabbonim and we received instructions from our rabbonim that children should be handcuffed together and this is what we’ve done.”
In a statement, the Camp Sucker movement condemned the “cynical” use of children, adding, “The very fact that you live in Israel, enjoying the security the state gives you, requires you to take part in the obligations of the state.”
In addition, Likud suggested changes in the methods of ensuring that those registered in yeshivos actually attend, which will be included in any new enlistment law. Zeev Elkin of Likud told reporters that to prevent talmidim from being registered at more than one yeshiva, they would be required to check in twice daily by placing their fingers in biometric sensors and scanners at entrances to their yeshivos and checked against a biometric student database. Surprise inspections would be conducted remote control style by the Education Ministry officials phoning yeshivos and ordering them to immediately run the students through scanning machines to ensure that all were present.
Further cause for incitement is the recent disclosure that next year, the number of religious and chareidi children will exceed fifty percent for the first time. Deputy Education Minister Menachem Eliezer Moses (UTJ) warned that this will be ammunition for further incitement.
“What will be the next incitement?” he asked at a meeting with a meeting of frum school administrators in Elad. “We have data that in 5773, the religious community will cross the fifty percent line at kindergarten age for the first time. We will be 52 percent and they will have only 48 percent.”
He added that the percentage of chareidim in educational institutions has risen from 12.6 percent twelve years ago to 32 percent. Recently, Israel’s statistics bureau publicized that by 2059 the country will have a majority of chareidim and Arabs, and in another fifty years, at present rate of growth, the chareidi population is expected to grow from 750,000 three years ago to 5.84 million. The chareidi towns of Beitar Illit, Telz Stone and Emanuel have the highest birthrates in the country.
This Thursday, a dramatic sideshow of Israel’s enlistment battle is expected at the Knesset when Yisroel Beiteinu brings to vote its draconian service bill that requires every chareidi or Arab male of 18 years and older to enlist immediately.
“We need to propose a bill of the utmost simplicity without shticks, without tricks, and without chochmot,” said Yisroel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. “Every Israeli citizen who turns eighteen must serve in the army or national service. Pushing this to 23 or 24 is a surrender and loss of chareidi conscription. There’s no chance anyone will want to enlist a chareidi of 23 or 26 due to all the expenses involved.”
What does the future hold?
“We get our strength from the knowledge that this is the will of the gedolei Yisroel who have instructed us to say whatever we say without compromise,” said MK Uri Maklev. “Looking at the flourishing Torah world, we know that this is the truth.”