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Fighting Back

Bibi hopes to outlast the Bden administration — but can he survive his own attorney general?


anking in the polls, Benny Gantz managed four lengthy interviews on the first weekend following his resignation from the wartime unity government, breaking eight months of silence. This is hardly the first time a unity government imploded dramatically amid accusations and recriminations. But in this case, it’s hard to find any substantive differences between Netanyahu and Gantz, who in war cabinet meetings agreed on almost every essential point.

At the heart of the problem is a breakdown of trust. “Stop treating me as an American agent,” Gantz said in an interview to right-wing Israeli broadcaster Channel 14. Netanyahu perceived Gantz as aiming to undermine him on behalf of the American administration, while Gantz felt that he was being left out of key decisions, most glaringly the hostage rescue operation.

Gantz called for snap elections, after which he would accept any result and seek to form a unity government. What Gantz didn’t reveal to interviewers in his recent media blitz is his compromise proposal to Netanyahu, dispatched through a war cabinet minister, with an agreed-upon date for elections and both men declaring ahead of time that they wouldn’t rule out sitting in a government led by the other, per the results of the election. The proposal was rejected by Netanyahu, who made clear his view that setting a date for elections during wartime is not an option.

Netanyahu is reluctant to fight a war at the head of a narrow right-wing government, but what he fears even more is that agreeing to elections at the expense of his right-wing allies would lead to the breakup of the right-wing bloc that has seen him through three transition governments, starting in 2019. In the post-October 7 reality, allying with an Arab party — as his opponents did in 2021 — doesn’t seem like an option. The scenario Netanyahu sees as most likely is no “total victory” for either bloc, but a return to the gridlock of the 2019–2022 political crisis.

Quickly urging Gantz to recant was Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, a member of the war cabinet and one of the government’s moderate voices who no longer intends to take part in war cabinet meetings after the departure of Gantz and his partner Gadi Eisenkot.

Netanyahu’s alliance with Gantz and Eisenkot, in Deri’s view, was a strategic asset for Israel, both internationally and domestically. After their withdrawal, even if Netanyahu continues to make the key decisions on his own, Israel will be perceived around the world as dominated by the far right and will lose whatever legitimacy it retains in the West. In the domestic arena, as well, the situation could deteriorate very quickly. The calls to abstain from reserve duty could return. The chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet won’t find it easy to be seen as taking orders from Itamar Ben Gvir.

Netanyahu, set to address both houses of the US Congress on July 24 with a bipartisan invitation, appears to have decided to stave off elections for at least six more months in the hope that the weather in Washington, D.C., will change after November. Trump and Netanyahu may detest each other, but their fates are now intertwined. The continued fighting in Gaza could be a significant factor in a total victory for Trump.

The Real Opposition Leader

With all due respect to Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, for Netanyahu, the real opposition leader is Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. Having worked with quite a few attorney generals in his day, Bibi’s respect for her professional skills is nonexistent.

The fact that she had to send a deputy to represent Israel on her behalf at the International Court of Justice in the Hague highlighted Baharav-Miara’s lack of experience compared to her predecessors. Case in point, even he who shall not be named in Netanyahu’s presence — Avichai Mandelblit, a former military advocate general seen as an expert in the laws of war — was favorably compared to Baharav-Miara in Netanyahu’s circle.

While her legal skills may be debatable, no one doubts that she’s gifted with a keen political sense. She knows how to play the game, and seemingly has a knack for getting under the skin of Netanyahu and his ministers.

If in the past it was High Court justices who pointed the way for attorney generals, today the opposite is the case. In her preliminary opinion on the expiration of the draft law, it was Baharav-Miara who paved the way for High Court justices to declare yeshivah bochurim subject to the draft, and the same is true of the current hot-button issue, with the attorney general talking about suspending arnonah (property tax) discounts and day care subsidies for families led by yeshivah students. No attorney general would dare to take similar action against the families of convicted felons, not to mention the Arab population, which also doesn’t serve.

If politicians on the right mulled similar action against any other non-chareidi sector, Baharav-Miara would draw herself up to her full height and clarify that a decision that targets family members for the “sins of the father” is patently unconstitutional. But when it comes to the chareidim, every option is on the table.

And what we’re referring to of course is her unhesitating backing for every measure taken by the unelected officialdom against the government in general and the chareidim in particular. Politically, Baharav-Miara is the most powerful figure in the government today, and this message, which has reverberated through every branch of the government, has allowed Finance Ministry bureaucrats to make decisions that they wouldn’t have dared consider under any other government.

Sticks in the Spokes

Across the oceans, the hostile moves against the Israeli Torah world have got the wheels of American askanus turning.

Well-known public figures close to leaders of Israel’s yeshivah world have been working on the campaign in cooperation with famous donors such as Rabbi Reuven Wolf. According to sources in the campaign, the lion’s share of the target sum has already been raised ahead of the conference.

Some of the big contributors, who traditionally come to Israel for the Yamim Tovim, became an integral part of the campaign upon their arrival in Israel ahead of Shavuos, with the initiative spreading by word of mouth. If the project comes to fruition, it will be a powerful statement on the financial independence of the yeshivah world, even as the state withholds funding.

If the big promises translate into realities, it will undoubtedly be a symbolic win, but it still won’t be enough to solve the problem. It’s no longer just about the budgets for yeshivos and kollels alone, or putting a stick in the spokes of the full wagon of chareidi education, to borrow from the Chazon Ish’s famous parable to Ben-Gurion.

Under the inspiration of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, anti-chareidi sentiment has become so prevalent in the bureaucracy that it sometimes seems the real governing coalition consists of unelected officials across cabinet ministries, while ministers are opposition figures in their own bureaus.

The most recent and dramatic example was the decision issued by the Finance Ministry’s deputy accountant general, Yehonatan Reznik. In a letter to the directors of the chareidi, independent, and Maayan HaTorah Education networks, which are responsible for tens of thousands of chareidi students, Reznik instructed the networks to prepare for their complete severance from all of the state’s accounting and wage systems.

Without delving into the details of the directive, the bottom line is unambiguous. Of all the blows landed on the chareidi education system so far, this one is the most punishing. If implemented, the directive will set the chareidi school system back 50 years, turning it from a recognized part of the government education system, almost like the mamlachti educational system, into a private nonprofit, with all that entails in terms of government support.

Responding sharply to the decision was Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. In a letter to Finance Ministry accountant general Yali Rothenberg titled, “In those days there was no king in Israel; a man would do whatever seemed proper in his eyes,” the minister in charge wrote: “With all due respect, someone here got confused... No official, no matter how senior, is authorized to make a decision on his own authority contrary to government policy.”

A few hours after Smotrich sent his letter, Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni and Shas chair Aryeh Deri discussed the dismal situation.

“Bezalel really gave it to them,” Gafni chuckled.

But Deri was skeptical, comparing Smotrich’s response to putting out a fire with gasoline, and predicting that it will lead the attorney general to back up the decision, as is her custom.

There may be no king in Israel, but there’s certainly an attorney general.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1016)

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