Bibi's new coalition is more like a shtibel
IF even a tenth of Binyamin Netanyahu’s agreements with his religious and chareidi partners are fulfilled, the incoming Israeli government will be the most Orthodox in the history of the Zionist state.
Halachic conversion, the military draft, Shabbos observance, chometz on Pesach, even the “shtreimel clause” (aimed at preventing animal rights legislation that could impact the shtreimel industry) — nothing went unmentioned in the coalition agreements.
The insistence on detail and deadlines shows that Netanyahu’s allies want their payments in cash. The more interesting clauses relate to the religious status quo, which the previous government undermined relentlessly. Unlike in Netanyahu’s previous governments, this time all his allies are chareidi or religious, and it shows in the coalition deals.
A series of High Court decisions affecting the status quo will be legislated away: chometz will be banned in hospitals on Pesach on orders of hospital directors; private and Reform conversions will no longer be recognized, and the law will stipulate that “conversions carried out in Israel will be recognized by law only if carried out through the state conversion system, which will be subject to the rulings of the chief rabbinate.”
And that’s only the start: A new draft law will be passed before the 2023 budget, along with a basic law on Torah study to bypass the expected High Court ruling. The kashrus reform led by outgoing minister of religious affairs Matan Kahana will be repealed, as will the kosher cellular phone reform and changes to the status of Israel’s municipal rabbis.
AS the days went by after the religious-right bloc’s victory in the election, demands multiplied exponentially. Netanyahu was only ever able to form governments through long, agonizing negotiation processes; but this time, with a clear majority and no serious ideological divisions between his partners, it could have been different. Instead, his allies used the time to pile on one demand after another, squabbling for weeks over a plethora of clauses, subclauses, and appendices to their coalition agreements.
Bibi found himself being dragged from one Chanukah event after another, like a chassidish MK who has to attend lightings in multiple courts. One night he was photographed with his friends in UTJ, with whom he pleaded to make miracles and “end this negotiating already,” as he put it; another night flanked by Ben Gvir, who had just secured the deputy chairmanship of the ministerial committee for legislation — a key government body with influence over the entire legislative process.
Ben Gvir is a particularly good example of the post-election trend. After becoming the first party leader to ink a deal with Netanyahu, on November 25 — giving him more power than any security minister in the history of the state — Ben Gvir followed Bibi’s negotiations with the other parties attentively, and soon demanded that Netanyahu reopen talks with him so he could improve on his already significant achievements.
At the last minute, Ben Gvir extorted from Netanyahu the repeal of clause 7A of the Basic Law, which makes incitement to racism sufficient grounds for striking down a Knesset candidacy. This clause effectively banned Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party from the Knesset in 1992.
Ben Gvir also managed to get incitement against the chareidim recognized as racism — a wink to a potential future support base. But of course it didn’t end there. When the chareidi MKs learned of his concern for their constituency, they raised their own demands so as not to seem less frum than Ben Gvir.
Ben Gvir has gone from being denied entry to the Knesset as a parliamentary aide to entering the new government as the star of the triumphant Israeli right, but with expectations to match. Otzma Yehudit’s leading security figure, Brigadier General (res.) Tzvika Fogel, captured Ben Gvir’s aspirations for the next government succinctly in an anecdote he told to Radio 90: “When I was in America, a cop yelled at me and I quaked in my boots. That’s how it should be.”
Sometimes one sentence is worth a thousand interviews and press releases.
Netanyahu has learned the truth of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” The liberal Likudnik with a Weltanschauung formed in Rehavia and MIT, who ran four times on the agenda of a fully right-wing government, is now seeing his dreams morphing into a gigantic nightmare, with his one-time guests becoming the landlords.
The kippah-wearers in the new coalition outnumber the bare heads. One telling anecdote shows where the power really lies in the incoming government. The night Netanyahu phoned President Herzog to announce that he had succeeded in forming a government, as required by law, he made the call five minutes before the midnight deadline. Herzog, an early riser, had stayed up late waiting for the call.
But half an hour earlier, Bezalel Smotrich had stolen Bibi’s thunder by posting “Hitzlachnu [we succeeded]” on social media — a laconic reminder of who’s in charge.
In interviews with the foreign press, Netanyahu explains in English that Israel will not become a halachic state and that he alone will make security decisions. But the next day he has to clarify to Bezalel Smotrich — in Hebrew — that his words were taken out of context and that authority over the civil administration in Judea and Samaria will indeed be held by the Religious Zionist Party.
Just how spooked is Netanyahu by the demands of his religious and chareidi allies? Minutes before the chareidim were set to meet Netanyahu for more negotiations two weeks ago, Channel 12 News released a bombshell report on the UTJ’s demands on Shabbos electricity generation.
Five minutes after the TV report aired, the chareidim arrived for their meeting with Netanyahu. “We know the leak didn’t come from us,” they said pointedly, effectively accusing Netanyahu’s staff — who indeed had to undergo lie-detector tests last week — of deliberately leaking UTJ’s demands to stir up the press and weaken their hand.
And if you’re wondering how the story ended, you’re welcome to peruse the section of the 127-clause-long coalition agreement between Likud and UTJ dealing with “environmental protection.”
What does environmental protection have to do with Shabbos? Note the innocuous wording: “The government will take steps to increase solar energy generation in built-up areas and help any local authority that so desires to set up microgrids for electricity generation, as well as storage, subject to regulation by the Israeli Electricity Authority…”
In other words, the government will help chareidi municipalities consume energy not generated on Shabbos. And no environment is more pure than one in which Shabbos is observed fully.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 942)
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