Peres Allows Netanyahu 2 More Weeks

YERUSHALAYIM -

PM blames Lapid, Bennett for boycotting chareidim

On Motzoei Shabbos, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the first minutes of the two additional weeks allowed him by President Shimon Peres to build a coalition by letting everyone know who is to blame for his failure to do so until now.

In a nationally broadcast address, Netanyahu told Peres that a coalition agreement has eluded him because some parties wish to “boycott” an entire sector of the Israeli population.

It became common knowledge that Yesh Yatid leader Yair Lapid and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett are refusing to join a coalition with the chareidi parties when a Likud-Beiteinu negotiator told Israeli media last week that such was the case. In a subsequent statement, Lapid’s office did not deny the claim, and what until then had been rumor became fact.

Netanyahu appealed directly to the national-religious public, saying, “Those who should understand better than anyone else [the unacceptability of such a boycott] are the communities of Yehudah and Shomron, who themselves suffer from boycotts every day. In our history we have experienced many tragedies which were the result of baseless hatred.” He stressed that when the nation faces major security challenges, it is a time to unite, not divide.

In a meeting on Sunday with Shas leaders Eli Yishai, Aryeh Deri and Ariel Attias, the prime minister bluntly told them that Bennett’s decision to make his party’s joining the coalition conditional on Lapid joining would likely keep Shas out of the next government.

However, Netanyahu also said that he had not given up on including them in a broad-based coalition and that he would pursue it “until the last minute,” according to media reports.

Chareidi MKs have been having their say as well. In a scathing statement, Eli Yishai asserted, “The Jewish Home MKs have sold their souls … and sacrificed the future of Yehudah and Shomron on the altar of hatred for the chareidim. The flowers go to Bennett.”

Lapid “never aimed at benefiting the middle class or the students. He used his literary, presentational and rhetorical skills for one purpose only — the expulsion of the chareidim from the government and from Israeli society,” Yishai added.

Commenting on Bennett’s repeated professions of love for “our chareidi brothers,” UTJ’s Rabbi Moshe Gafni said: “It’s easy to say we don’t hate the chareidim but do everything in practice to harm the way of life, beliefs, outlook and conscience of the chareidi public.”

In response to Lapid’s statement that “it won’t be the end of the world if the chareidim sit in the opposition for a time,” Gafni said, “Lapid should learn a bit of history and discover that United Torah Judaism has been in the opposition for more years than it has been in the governing coalition. But our complaint is not against Yesh Atid, which unabashedly brandishes the banner of an anti-chareidi boycott, but toward its partners, who are on the receiving end of never-ending boycotts and have now joined Lapid’s boycott against the chareidi public.”

Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) expressed his astonishment at the Lapid-Bennett anti-chareidi alliance, stressing the danger it poses to the Torah community.

Bennett confirmed publicly on Motzoei Shabbos that he had an ironclad agreement with Lapid that both parties would join Netanyahu together or not at all, forcing Netanyahu to create a government without chareidim.

“We agreed that Yesh Atid wouldn’t enter the government without Jewish Home and that Jewish Home wouldn’t enter without Yesh Atid,” Bennett said. “When we reached these understandings, Yesh Atid was in a better position than us. We were out and they were in. Yair Lapid stood by his word to me and the public I represent.

“Now the tables are turned. Suddenly, Likud wants us without Yesh Atid. It’s our turn to stand by our word. A word is a word.”

A meeting of Netanyahu and Bennett held on Sunday was described by both as “good and productive.”

It should be noted that a coalition without chareidim is not merely an issue of ministerial positions and perks. History has shown that when the chareidi community’s representatives are not in the government, their needs are cut to the bare minimum in a disproportionate fashion.

The last time the chareidim were left out of the coalition — when Tommy Lapid, the father, struck a deal with Bennett’s predecessors in the National Religious Party (the former name of Jewish Home) — the budget for yeshivos and kollelim was slashed by dozens of percentage points, while the rest of the budget was cut by a mere 4 percent. Likewise, cuts in child-care allowances were directed specifically at large families in order to hurt the chareidi population.

Moreover, the status quo on issues of religion, which has been in effect since the establishment of the state, is in danger whenever chareidim have no say in the government. This is especially the case since Lapid has said that he will work in the coming Knesset to implement civil marriages, “break the monopoly of the Orthodox” on the Rabbinate, and strengthen the Reform and Conservative streams.

Of course, most important of all, the issue of the yeshivah draft will be addressed by the new government in the coming weeks. In fact, the issue seems to be the only thing that Lapid and Bennett agree upon. There are hardly any other issues on which they see eye to eye, namely settlements and the two-state solution, the main issues for Bennett’s constituency.