National-Religious Roiling Over Habayit Hayehudi’s Complicity in Yeshivah Funding Cuts

YERUSHALAYIM -

“Entering a government that banned chareidim was a mistake,” Habayit Hayehudi MK Moti Yogev said last week, amid mounting criticism of the national-religious party and its leader, Naftali Bennett. “There were those of us in the party who wanted a different coalition, but we didn’t state our view strongly enough. We never dreamed that Yesh Atid would push us into a place where we have no business being…. The Torah has truly been hurt.”

The draconian cuts to yeshivah funding, including those belonging to the national-religious stream, set off shock waves throughout the Habayit Hayehudi party and the national-religious world. Habayit Hayehudi MK Yoni Chetboun said last week that “we will have to fight to prevent this sharp cut, both to the yeshivos of religious Zionism and to those of the chareidi world.”

Disillusioned with Habayit Hayehudi, and furious that it formed a political alliance with Yesh Atid instead of with its natural partner, the chareidi parties, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, the Rav of the Shomron Regional Council and Rosh Yeshivah of the Elon Moreh yeshivah, announced his intention to form an independent party that would stand for Jewish values. He said that the national-religious movement bears a special responsibility after voting to put the Habayit Hayehudi party into office.

“The harm to the yeshivot is out of all proportion, and hands a victory to Lapid,” Rabbi Levanon said, adding that while Lapid declared his antireligious stance throughout the campaign, how do his partners, who claim to be religious, justify taking part in this destructive process?

“From a political standpoint, we have burned all our bridges with the chareidi world, and the damage is great,” he said. “When Bennett announced during his campaign that he would open up the party’s ranks, we were thrilled. We hoped that in addition to our good ties with the chareidi Torah world, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, we would also have ties to the secular world. But this didn’t happen. Instead, Habayit Hayehudi has adopted the secular agenda and is therefore cooperating with the yeshivah draft law, which isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. How can you draft people against their will? The law is meant to appeal to the voters [of Yair Lapid], and it’s a shame that Habayit Hayehudi is going along with this. It is breeding hatred of the national-religious public among the chareidim.

“We can’t continue this way, which only leads to attacks on the chareidi public, attacks on the national-religious public, attacks on large families [whose child-allocation payments have been cut] and attacks on settlements.”

Dozens of heads of hesder and other national-religious yeshivos gathered for an emergency meeting last week to formulate a response to budget cuts that eliminate 66 percent of government funding per student. The yeshivos are receiving NIS 155 per student, down from NIS 476. For avreichim, funding has dropped to NIS 279 from NIS 856 in 2012.

Promises by Habayit Hayehudi that it would use some of its coalition funding to offset the cuts were not kept.

Rabbi Ari Katz, head of Ye­ shivat Kerem B’Yavneh near Ashdod, told Arutz Sheva that the budget cuts were devastating. “We are very disappointed with the allocation we received yesterday,” he said. “We are a big yeshivah, and this has hurt us badly. It is a war against the Torah world. We must fight this war together with the Roshei Yeshivah and students. It is inconceivable that we, who are grooming the next generation, have to go begging for money.

“It is difficult for us to pay salaries and stipends to avreichim. We are disappointed in the leadership of the Habayit Hayehudi party and hope they will understand that the entire Torah world is in crisis.”

Dov Sheffler, a spokesman for the national-religious lobby that has been formed to battle on behalf of the yeshivos, said, “The situation is much more severe than we had imagined. We don’t have money to pay salaries. We are seriously considering holding demonstrations and looking at firing people. We don’t know what to do.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the National Union party Yaakov Katz is calling for Bennett’s ouster as chairman of Habayit Hayehudi.

Katz charged that Bennett is aware that the current “peace talks” are rigged to lead to the eviction and demolition of eight Jewish communities around Shechem. By remaining in the Netanyahu government, Bennett becomes an accomplice to their destruction, he said.

“I call on the Knesset members of Habayit Hayehudi to convene immediately and depose Naftali Bennett from all of his functions in the leadership of the party, because of the impending destruction of the Torah world and demolition of the Yehudah and Shomron enterprise.

“Just as Bennett knew about the harsh cut in funding for yeshivos and Torah educational institutes, and told his faction and the heads of the institutions that nothing would happen, just to keep them quiet, so too Bennett is hiding the great threat to the settlement enterprise from everyone today.

“Everyone now knows that Bennett’s messages of calm were baseless. Fully 66 percent of the funding for the Torah world was cut, and the same thing will happen now if Habayit Hayehudi postpones Bennett’s dismissal until the presentation of the agreement for the destruction of communities.

“By then it will be too late, and our public will again have to face the same horrific sights that it experienced only eight years ago in Gaza and northern Shomron,” he said, referring to the deportation of 9,000 Jews from Gaza and four communities in Shomron in the disengagement.

Katz called on the party to “fix what has been twisted and immediately conduct negotiations with its natural partners, the chareidi parties, for their entry into the government instead of Lapid.”