Politics: Winners, losers in the Keshev saga
With the coalition teetering over replacing the Tal Law, who comes out on top and who misses out?
Yohanan Plesner at Keshev C'tee press conference Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
When a journalist asked a cabinet minister about Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis over the Keshev Committee in the Knesset
cafeteria this week, the minister responded with pity.
“I know you have
to write a column for Friday’s newspaper but I don’t,” he said. “I can wait
until it’s over to pass judgment.”
And indeed, it is not over. When
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz finished his statement at a Knesset press conference
Wednesday by saying that “the ball is in the prime minister’s hands, and it’s a
matter of days,” a frustrated, overworked reporter kvetched: “Days? Why not
hours?! Nu!” The fate of the national-unity government that Netanyahu and Mofaz
formed with great fanfare at 2 a.m. on May 8 is expected to be decided by the
next Kadima faction meeting at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 9.
But as the
minister said, journalists have to do their job. And part of their job is to
evaluate the performance of politicians in a time of crisis, even if it is
ongoing. So here are the winners and losers in the Keshev
1. Netanyahu. Does the prime minister regret the
decision he made to stop the vote on advancing elections to September 4 and
expand the government with Mofaz? No one close to Netanyahu will answer that
question, but they all will say he took a tremendous risk.
fails to broker a compromise between Mofaz and the haredim over equalizing the
burden of IDF service, Kadima will leave the government and the coalition will
shrink back to 66 MKs from 94. Netanyahu is smart enough not to immediately
initiate an election in which he would be painted as the defender of the haredim
against the rest of the country.
But even if Netanyahu manages to
complete his term, which officially ends in October 2013, despite Israelis’
notoriously short memories, they will not forget that when push came to shove he
sided with those he referred to as the Likud’s natural partners – the Right and
the haredim. That could make centrist Israelis reconsider voting for Likud and
allowing Netanyahu to form the next coalition.
And even if Netanyahu does
reach a deal, the many columns over the past week that painted him as the
haredim’s chief advocate have already done irrevocable damage to his
Netanyahu has a weapon that he has exploited to his advantage
and that will help him in the negotiations: The cast that has been on his leg
since he tore ligaments in a June 11 soccer game. The cast gave him an excuse to
cancel appearances at many events.
He has not shown up at the Knesset,
where reporters can see who enters and leaves his office. All his meetings are
at the Prime Minister’s Office, where cars with tinted windows can come and go
without tipping anyone off as to what is going on behind the scenes.
Mofaz. If there ever was a lose-lose situation for a politician, this is it. If
Mofaz reaches a deal with Netanyahu, chances are that at least the minimum seven
MKs needed to split a faction will leave Kadima and join the new centrist party
being formed by former minister Haim Ramon with the help of former Kadima leader
If no deal is reached, Kadima will leave the coalition and
go back to irrelevancy in the opposition for as long as 15 months, having failed
to use its influence in the government to make the changes that Mofaz promised.
Anyone who hoped Kadima would change the electoral system, ensure the passage of
a less cruel state budget, or advance peace will be disappointed and will look
for a new party on Election Day.
And the party will probably still
The best case scenario for Mofaz remains that the current
government lasts as long as possible with him in it. That way, at least he could
have influence when key decisions are made on big issues like
Meanwhile, Mofaz’s reputation will continue to be sullied. Though
it is hard to think it can get any worse than this quote from a source close to
Netanyahu printed in Thursday’s Yediot Aharonot: “He is like [former foreign
minister] David Levy,” the source said.
“Busy acting offended but
incapable of quitting.”
3. The haredim. There are those who say that the
ultra-Orthodox are the big winners in the crisis, because Netanyahu appeared to
defend them or because of a patronizing argument that serving in the army will
help them in the long run financially and integrate them into Israeli
But the truth is that the haredim overwhelmingly preferred the
status quo. And it will change.
The Keshev committee’s recommendations of
hefty fines for haredi draft-evaders will not pass in the Knesset, but taking
away state benefits from the evaders and their learning institutions will. There
will be real enforcement to make sure the yeshiva students who are supposed to
be learning Torah are really at their yeshivas. Keshev even recommends
Whether or not a deal is reached between Likud and
Kadima, an alternative to the Tal Law on haredi service must pass in the Knesset
by August 1, due to a ruling by the Supreme Court. Whatever ends up passing,
even if the haredi parties end up supporting it, will be much worse a scenario
for the haredim than they have had for the past decade.
Yohanan Plesner. On one hand, he started off as the head of a committee with
nine people and he finished the Keshev report on his own after Netanyahu
disbanded the committee. When National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari heckled Plesner
during his press conference announcing the report, Marina Solodkin was the only
MK there with Plesner to heckle back.
But on the other hand, Plesner’s
persistence will earn him points with his voters.
His argument that many
soldiers do not finish the masa alonkot – the traditional long march in basic
training carrying stretchers – resonates with many Israelis. And you can agree
or disagree with the report Plesner put out, but it cannot be denied that it is
comprehensive, serious work.
Yohanan Plesner is now a household name in
Israel for the first time. His face is now recognizable for ordinary Israelis,
which other backbench Kadima MKs certainly cannot say about
When Plesner put out a report on the same subject a year ago
as an opposition MK on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, it was
barely even covered by the media. Now his recommendations are front-page
Even if Kadima does not recover from its current slump in the
polls, thanks to his hard work, Harvard-educated Plesner has likely earned
himself a seat in the next Knesset.
2. Avigdor Liberman. It is too easy
to forget why Israel was going to go to elections on September 4 before the
national-unity government was formed. Yisrael Beytenu had submitted a bill
requiring all 18-yearold Israelis to serve in the IDF and had threatened to
remove its 15 MKs from the 66-MK coalition if Netanyahu did not support
All the fervor surrounding drafting yeshiva students that will
culminate with a mass Tel Aviv rally Saturday night was started by Liberman –
and presumably some good advice he received to focus on the matter by his
American strategist, Arthur Finkelstein.
Liberman also knew when to leave
the Keshev Committee last week, which led to its unraveling. As often happens,
other parties followed in Yisrael Beytenu’s footsteps.
The reason why
Liberman ordered his representative on the committee, MK David Rotem, to leave
was that it set targets he saw as too low for drafting Arabs into national
service. Requiring Arabs to serve is a hotbutton issue for potential Yisrael
Even though Liberman is likely to order his MKs to oppose
whatever proposal comes to a vote in the Knesset later this month – because in
his eyes it will not go far enough – he will be credited with passing
3. Yair Lapid. The other main beneficiary of the credit for the
uproar over drafting yeshiva students did not write a report, propose a bill or
organize a rally. He actually didn’t do anything at all.
But the chairman
of the new Yesh Atid party’s name is Lapid, and he is the son of the late leader
of the secularist Shinui party, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid. And that is
Voters who put matters of religion and state at the top of their
agenda on Election Day will see Lapid as the candidate most connected to such
issues, even though he is actually much more moderate than his
Lapid started giving interviews over the past two weeks,
increasing his visibility just at the right time. He was criticized for stepping
in many puddles as he started his political career, but now it looks like his
star is on the rise.