Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have to make a decision Sunday about how to resolve the differences between Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi over sanctions for haredi draft-dodgers ahead of Monday’s key votes in the special Knesset committee on the issue.
With Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett both climbing tall trees and telling the media the other side will cave in, Netanyahu will have to fulfill the role of the proverbial “responsible adult.” The alternative is to risk his coalition coming apart on an issue that was thought to be a rare matter of consensus among the parties that joined his government.
Netanyahu could receive inspiration from the Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution at Jerusalem’s Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, which decided to promote Sunday as a “Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict.” The center chose the day because some 2,000 years ago, the two dominant Jewish schools of thought, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, erupted into a violent conflict that led to as many as 3,000 deaths.
The timing of the commemoration could not have been better, considering the haredi rioting on the streets over the legislation Thursday and recent extreme statements made by all sides in the conflict.
The history of the day should serve as a powerful reminder to the leaders of all the parties involved of the potential for tragedy if they fail to settle their differences.
In the heat of their increasingly tense battle over the bill, all sides appear to have forgotten the point of their effort to draft yeshiva students, which was to help resolve, not instigate conflict.
Yesh Atid, for instance, believes in integrating haredim into Israeli society, bringing more of them into the workforce and helping them avoid poverty. But some of their representatives have sounded lately more like MKs of their leader’s late father’s party, Shinui, in putting a rigid definition of equality and perhaps even “sticking it to the haredim” above their initial goals.
When Bennett took over Bayit Yehudi, he pledged to return religious Zionism to its traditional role as a bridge-builder in Israeli society.
But as the only religious party in Netanyahu’s government, it has often been on the defensive in trying to block Yesh Atid’s initiatives, sometimes putting defeating Lapid ahead of its initial goals.
Then there are the haredi leaders, who are acting as if Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi are ganging up on them to force every yeshiva student into the army at age 18. The actual proposal that will come to a vote in the Shaked Committee frees thousands of haredim from their obligation to serve over the next four years, and even then requires a quota that can be satisfied by 21-year-old yeshiva students who have already been studying for three years and are eager to learn a trade.
The attempts by leaders from Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi and the haredi parties to get their way on everything could result in the Shaked Committee joining past attempts to resolve differences on matters of religion and state that failed because all sides involved refused to compromise.
The efforts of Shinui, former minister Yossi Beilin and Kadima’s MK Yohanan Plesner all were doomed by similar stubbornness, and the mistakes of politicians at the time.
The two Kadima MKs left in the Knesset, skeletons in a party that had 28 seats until January 2013, serve as a reminder to the legislators that voters will punish them if they fail.
The parties in the coalition had a year to work on the legislation for drafting yeshiva students behind the scenes while the public was focused on other key issues. Now, ahead of a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court, all eyes will be on the committee in the Knesset this week.
It is harder to work under a microscope, but there is no choice. And Netanyahu tends to make key decisions at the last minute anyway.
It is up to Netanyahu, whose name means “given by God,” to prove himself to be the leader that the people of Israel needed 2,000 years ago during the days of Shammai and Hillel.