Avigdor Liberman is right. There are two issues that will tell us what kind of a government Israel now has.
It will not take long. Decisions will be made quickly. And then we will know.
The first issue is the replacement legislation for the Tal Law. That some legislation will be passed is a foregone conclusion. The Supreme Court decision overturning Tal requires it, and public opinion demands it. But the question as yet unanswered is whether the new law will be puffery or will lead to significant change.
The new government has the power to do what needs to be done. The ultra-Orthodox parties are no longer the swing votes in the coalition. But in the past, on those rare occasions where taking on the forces of religious reaction was possible, the politicians—looking ahead to the next election—always blinked. “We don’t need the ultra-Orthodox now, but we will need them next time,” they said.
Initial signs indicate that this might happen again.
While there are many legislative possibilities, the key will be to limit the number of yeshiva students who can be exempted from the army and study full-time at the government’s expense. That number now stands at more than 58,000, and it must—must—be significantly reduced. All the other details are negotiable: some of these students will enter the army, some will do national service, and some will work. But if there is not a cap on government-supported Torah study for army-age young men, nothing really changes. And tragically, Likud is now talking of a legislative proposal that would call for modest increases in the number of ultra-Orthodox doing national service while not reducing—or limiting in any way—the number of yeshiva-related exemptions.
How will we know if the new government’s bill will really change things? If both Shas and United Torah Judaism remain in the coalition after the bill is put forward, that means that what is being proposed is symbolic rather than real. My best guess: Once again, the political establishment will cave in to ultra-Orthodox demands and dress up their surrender as “gradual but meaningful change.”
The second issue is the directive of the Supreme Court to dismantle homes in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El by July 1 and to evacuate the Migron settlement by August 1.
The Supreme Court, led by a new and more conservative Chief Justice, Asher Grunis, has informed the government that it is out of patience and will accept no more delays in either of the above cases. Under normal circumstances, it would be unthinkable that any government of Israel, of the right or of the left, would defy the court, either by ignoring its decisions or using some legislative device to reduce the court to insignificance. Faced with a similar directive on settlement evacuation, Menahem Begin famously declared, “There are judges in Israel,” and carried out the court’s will.
But these are different times. The Likud, the dominant force in the new coalition, has veered right, and many of its MKs have made opposition to the court’s order a litmus test of the Prime Minister’s intentions. They will join with Yisrael Beiteinu to oppose the dismantling of even a single home.
My best guess: Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the backing of Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz, will follow the Begin example and do what’s right. But, I admit, I am not sure.
In any case, these two tests will give us the answers we all seek. Is the new government a creation of self-interested politicians, seeking to advance their own careers at the expense of the public and the Jewish people? Or is it an instrument of experienced political leaders who made hard choices in order to allow the Jewish state to live up to its highest ideals?