Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties are holding up approval of the budget over a conscription law they are determined to see pass this session, threatening to destabilize the coalition.
Ultra-Orthodox protesters take part in a demonstration against a process whereby members of their community are being forced to serve in the Israeli army, Jerusalem, March 28, 2017.
Ultra-Orthodox parties are pushing for the adoption of a bill exempting the ultra-Orthodoxfrom conscription, even threatening to block the approval of the 2019 budget over it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes these threats seriously, since in Israel rejection of a budget is synonymous with a non-confidence vote against the government.
But can Aryeh Deri’s Shas party find a compromise and prevent a decision to dismantle the government and move to an early election? The latest polls don’t flatter Shas, and the party is already on the brink of the vote threshold for representation in the Knesset. One of Deri’s close associates told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that going to an early election now would be the dumbest move possible for all the coalition parties.
The Purim holiday gave Yisrael Beitenu’s leader, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, an opportunity to needle the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties — his rivals in the political conflict over the conscription law. Liberman posted a video Facebook message for Purim. Dressed up as an ultra-Orthodox man, he said, “When the month of Adar is on us, we enlist with joy. With the help of God, Litzman would be in the Sayeret Matkal, and Gafni in Shayetet 13.”
It’s doubtful that the two ulta-Orthodox politicians he named, Knesset members Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, appreciated Liberman’s joke about their joining Israel’s elite army and navy units. The prank added fuel to the fire of the conflict that threatens the coalition.
A November 2015 amendment to the conscription law removed the criminal consequences for yeshiva students who evade military service — the penalties that had been added by the previous Knesset in 2014. In September 2017, the Supreme Court struck down the amendment, objecting to the way the amendment undermined the authority of the defense minister to set quotas for enlisted ultra-Orthodox as he sees fit. The court gave the Knesset a year to pass an alternative law.
After the ruling, the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties made it clear that legislating a new conscription law was critical. However, it seems that if it weren’t for the embroilment of the prime minister in an array of criminal investigations, they might have waited until the Knesset’s summer session instead of setting an ultimatum for passing it during the current session.
Until two weeks ago, the ultra-Orthodox had seemed satisfied with their achievements in the current government and would not have turned the question into a crisis. Deri said that the law must pass and Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Torah Sages called for pressure on Netanyahu, but there were no threats or ultimatums.
Early last week, the tone changed. Liberman announced Feb. 27, “Regarding the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, Yisrael Beitenu’s position is clear. We will only support legislation formulated by the professional staff assembled by the Defense Ministry.” The staff includes only professionals and there is no ultra-Orthodox representation. Gafni quickly responded by threatening the coalition: “We entered the coalition with the central issue being yeshiva students. The state cannot exist without students whose learning is their faith. We legislated to regulate the issue. The Supreme Court rejected the law for the fourth time. We said we’ll legislate a basic law but Yisrael Beitenu opposes it. From now on, we will no longer vote for the senseless laws you introduce.”
Litzman then directly addressed Netanyahu and informed him that in accordance with the instructions of the Council of Torah Sages, he cannot support the government budget until the conscription law passes. In response, Liberman said, “The conscription law is a draft-dodging law. The decision of Yahadut HaTorah is no less than blackmail. Yisrael Beitenu will not give in and will not allow this to happen.”
Netanyahu, in the midst of interrogation preparations, urgently gathered the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties and promised to try to find a solution.
The ultra-Orthodox are also directing their anger toward Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whom they accuse of promising to support the law but then reneging. “It is Kahlon’s doing that the Supreme Court continues to run this country,” a senior Yahadut HaTorah member told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.
Kahlon insists on passing the budget during the current session, which ends March 18, and his party, Kulanu, announced that it will not hesitate to go to elections if that doesn’t happen.
On March 3, Culture Minister Miri Regev of the Likud warned, “There’s only one party in the coalition that has no reason to fear an election. It’s called the Likud. We have a very high degree of trust from the public and bogus threats will not work against us.” There is something to her claim. Most polls show the Likud keeping its power as the largest party in the Knesset. In comparison, almost all of the other coalition parties would weaken.
Within the Likud, members wonder what caused the ultra-Orthodox to harden their line. A Likud minister told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that when party leaders sat with leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties to understand why they made the ultimatum, their answers were evasive. One of the ultra-Orthodox politicians said, “The possibility that in the next few months Netanyahu will be forced to vacate his seat is causing us to lose sleep, and it’s clear to us that in such an event there’s no chance that we would get a conscription law that we could live with. Liberman is waiting for us in a corner because he owes his voters some achievements before the election or he will not pass the vote threshold. With all our achievements, without an acceptable conscription law, it would be as though we got nothing done during the current term.”
The Likud minister has no doubt that Netanyahu’s interrogation on March 2 riled up all the coalition parties, and the whirlwind of threats and counter-threats is almost unstoppable. “The prime minister needs superhuman political power to be able to deal with this crisis while he is occupied by the investigations,” said the minister.
Netanyahu won a few days’ respite with his trip to the United States to participate in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference and meet with President Donald Trump. Upon getting on the plane, he said that there is no reason to go to an early election and all that is needed from the coalition parties is goodwill. Until Netanyahu returns, Ministers Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin, with Deri’s help, will be hard at work on a resolution.
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
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The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
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One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
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Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.