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Crossing the Bibicon

Bibi has weeks to defuse the time bomb under his coalition


IF you too find yourself frantically juggling between work or learning and Pesach preparations, you may be surprised to hear who went on spring break last weekend. Believe it or not, despite Israel’s most difficult war in decades, the Knesset went on recess last Thursday, and won’t meet again until a few weeks after Pesach, after Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.

A motion to cancel the recess was advanced by opposition leader Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman. But the duo were beclowned by the Knesset attendance statistics released the same week, which showed what everyone already knew: Lapid and Lieberman have among the worst attendance records in the Knesset.

Degel HaTorah chairman Moshe Gafni once told me that back in the day, Rav Shach ztz”l instructed chareidi MKs to oppose shortening the Knesset recess, explaining that every day that the Knesset is on recess is one less day of chillul Hashem. But this time is different, as the recess comes at a uniquely inopportune moment for the chareidi community.

The High Court decision to subject all yeshivah bochurim to the draft and deprive yeshivos and kollels of state funding makes it impossible for chareidi politicians to spend the recess hiding their heads in the sand.

The legal significance of the High Court’s decision is immediate, and the withholding of funding has already begun. But not all the funding is being frozen at once, and not all yeshivah students became deserters on day one. Every yeshivah bochur who’s reached the age of enlistment has already reported to the Bakum (reception and sorting base) to receive a one-year deferral. Yeshivah students who received a deferral before April 1 will remain exempt from the draft until the end of the year, and will continue to be funded by the state in the interim.

And this brings us to the bottom line: With each passing day, more and more bochurim will become deserters as their call-up dates arrive. The chareidi parties can’t afford a single day’s unnecessary delay in passing a new law.



Without flaming torches, and in a much softer tone than the protesters laying siege to Netanyahu’s residence, chareidi MKs conveyed a similar message to Netanyahu this week: “You’re at the head, you’re responsible.”

For the chareidim, this is no April Fools’ prank. In the state’s 75-year history, no one ever dreamed of criminalizing the vast majority of yeshivah students at a stroke — but here we are, under a fully right-wing coalition that relies on chareidi votes and whose first order of business was to settle the draft issue once and for all. What seemed like a dream environment at the start of the term has become chareidi politicians’ worst nightmare.

Even in wartime, Netanyahu has his own priorities — the uppermost being to remain in power. Only a politician whose first priority is survival can last 17 years as prime minister and remain in power for six months after a horrific security debacle, rebuffing calls to resign as if nothing happened.

“Pay attention to whom Netanyahu is willing to stand up to,” one minister told me this week. “Netanyahu is walking on eggshells around Ben Gvir, but he has no problem going head-to-head against Biden and the rest of the world. And that’s because Ben Gvir holds the key to the coalition. A confrontation with Biden, on the other hand, doesn’t threaten the government at all — if anything, it earns him points with the base. It’s the same story with the draft: Bibi only began giving it serious attention when he realized that it’s a real threat to his political survival.”

Forget deferrals, it’s all about procrastination. The draft crisis reflects Netanyahu’s managerial style, which elevates dither-and-delay into a way of life.



Back in his days as defense minister, before falling out with Netanyahu, former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon said he couldn’t serve as defense minister in a government that criminalizes Torah study. And if Bogi Yaalon felt that way, all the more so the chareidim.

“Do you want to reward the attorney general, the High Court of Justice, and the left?” Netanyahu asked the chareidim amid rumors they plan on quitting the government. “Even pragmatically, it won’t get you any closer to an arrangement. You’ll get eight months of paralysis during which it will be impossible to pass any legislation, and which could easily end in a government with Lapid and Evet that won’t accept any compromise.”

Netanyahu guaranteed the chareidim that a revised bill would be supported by a majority of Likud’s 32 MKs, but the chareidim no longer automatically trust Netanyahu.

“We won’t let him hospitalize us at the summer session too,” a senior chareidi source told me, alluding to Netanyahu’s medical emergency this week.

“I don’t see any chance of passing a draft law in the middle of a war,” Justice Minister Yariv Levin told the chareidim two weeks ago.

“Yariv is right,” one chareidi representative told me. “Despite all the grand talk, I don’t see how Netanyahu can get a bill through three Knesset readings in an atmosphere of war. If legislation isn’t drawn up immediately after the Pesach break, we’ll have no choice but to resign from the government.”

Some of the chareidim even have a clear idea of what the alternative would look like.

“Everyone understands that the key to the story isn’t the draft itself, but Netanyahu,” the senior chareidi source told me. “The well-oiled machine dedicated to bringing Bibi down has identified the draft law as Netanyahu’s Achilles heel, and will do everything to prevent it from passing, which would consolidate his hold on power.

“But the moment we go to elections, the national focus will shift to the war and the failures that preceded it. After the elections, we’ll sit down with whoever has the best chance of forming a government and passing the legislation, likely Benny Gantz. In a very different atmosphere and with broad public consensus, we’ll sit down and hash out agreements that no one can accept today for no other reason that they would bolster Netanyahu politically.”

This rhetoric seems convincing, but one can never discount the possibility that the point of this threat is just to exert pressure on Bibi. Any expectation that the High Court of Justice will take our collective chestnuts out of the fire is also unwarranted in light of the situation. It seems safe to say that now that High Court justices have crossed the “Bibicon,” they won’t be in a hurry to lift the interim injunction and restore the status of yeshivah bochurim without legislation, not to say consensus legislation.

One thing is indisputable. Without a consensus solution, Leil HaSeder will be a night of all maror. And it’s highly doubtful whether the ensuing summer will lead us from bondage to redemption.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1007)

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