Speculation That Netanyahu Capitulated for Political Deal

YERUSHALAYIM -

Ever since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed that criminal sanctions be included in the new draft law being deliberated in the Shaked Committee, chareidi MKs have been wondering what made him backtrack on statements he had made just a week earlier against the sanctions.

Yesterday, rumors began to spread in the Knesset and in the media that the prime minister agreed to support criminal sanctions, as Finance Minister Yair Lapid was demanding, in exchange for Lapid giving up on his demand that his fellow faction member, MK Ofer Shelach, serve the first part of the term as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Since Avigdor Lieberman won his court case and returned to being foreign minister, his seat as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has remained empty. Yesh Atid was demanding the seat for Shelach, while the Likud wanted it for MK Tzachi Hanegbi. The two factions had agreed to a deal on a rotation for the post, but Netanyahu asked that Hanegbi be the first one to serve. Lapid objected, and Netanyahu was unable to defy him. This week, the deal that resolved the issue was closed: Hanegbi would serve first and in exchange, Netanyahu would support criminal sanctions on lomdei Torah.

It should be noted that as long as the committee did not have a permanent chairman, the MKs did not receive regular reports on the defense department activities, nor did they hear security briefings from the army heads. The MKs were also unable to pass certain budget allocations for defense purposes, including for the IDF and General Security Service.

Meanwhile, the Shaked Committee continued its deliberations yesterday regarding the “draft quotas” (the number of yeshivah students the state wants to draft every year). No votes were held, so no significant decisions were taken. But the discussions yesterday revolved around two points of contention between Yesh Atid and Jewish Home. The first was about the scope of the draft quotas, and whether the government will be the sole entity with control over these numbers, and if it will have the flexibility to adjust them every year. The second disagreement was whether the quota is to take effect next month, for 2014, with a target number of 3,200 yeshivah bachurim, or if they will only take effect in 2017, with a quota target of 5,200. There were arguments on both issues but nothing was finalized.

The final votes in the committee were suspended yesterday and are expected to continue today. It should be noted that before the voting was halted, the Jewish Home representatives tried to canvass the two chareidi MKs in the committee to come and vote so they could pass clauses that they were in support of. But the chareidi MKs refused to return to the committee, and the chairperson, MK Shaked, stopped the voting to prevent losing on those clauses. Today the committee will continue discussing the “who is a chareidi” question. No final decision has been made, but it seems that one of the criteria will be studying in a chareidi institution for at least two years between the ages of 14 and 18.