The decision facing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is really quite simple:
either do what’s best for the country or just tread water and survive another
year in office. The first choice requires courage; the second demands nothing
beyond the competence of any third-rate politician.
Any guesses as to
which path our prime minister will choose? Hint: At the very last second, just
before the Knesset was about to disperse in May, Netanyahu chose to expand his
coalition by throwing a lifeline to a sinking Kadima rather than risk facing the
Indeed, for all his elite commando past, Netanyahu is not known
for his bravery on the political field. Unlike Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner,
another Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance) veteran who determinedly
set out to find a realistic replacement for the Tal Law which expires at the end
of the month, Netanyahu would much rather find another fudge that would allow
haredi yeshiva students to continue to enjoy their widespread draft
Despite having the largest government coalition in Israeli
history, Netanyahu is refusing to act as a leader should. Although the prime
minister is perfectly aware that the present model of male haredi evasion of IDF
service is morally indefensible and their non-participation in the civilian labor
force economically unsustainable, the prime minister is refusing to seize the
opportunity granted by the Tal Law’s expiration.
By snatching at any
feeble excuse, such as the need to widen the scope of the Plesner Committee to
include Israeli Arabs, Netanyahu is flailing around, seeking to avoid annoying
his haredi coalition partners whose only concerns are their narrow, sectarian
interests and not the greater good of the country.
THE ISSUE of national
service for Israeli Arabs is important, but then so is ensuring that Israel’s
Arab citizens receive equal funding to their Jewish counterparts. It’s
hard to demand from one sector of the population that they play an equal role in
society when they receive less in return.
For example, back in 2007 the
government set a target of having Israeli-Arabs make up 10 percent of state
employees by this year. Given that Israeli Arabs constitute more than 20% of the
population, this should not have proved too difficult, but today, Israeli Arabs
only comprise 8% of state employees. And in the private sector it’s worse: only
1.3% of Arab graduates in high-tech fields actually work in this sector, the
majority have to move into teaching.
In fact, little has changed since
the Or Report into the October 2000 riots, when Justice Or noted: “The Arab
citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as
Arabs. This inequality has been documented in a large number of professional
surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government
resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller
and in other official documents.”
IRONICALLY, BY looking to fudge rather
than engineer a far-reaching societal change that would bring the haredi sector
into the Israeli mainstream, Netanyahu could actually be endangering his
political position to a greater degree than a rift with his haredi allies would
Last week Netanyahu eulogized his predecessor Yitzhak Shamir, the
man Netanyahu rivals for the unwanted title of Israel’s worst prime minister.
Under Shamir’s premiership, no chance for peace was ever seriously engaged, and
his scuttling of Shimon Peres’ 1987 London Agreement with Jordan’s King Hussein
was a disastrous mistake.
Throughout his premiership, to the exclusion of
all else, Shamir concentrated on building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, ploughing much-need economic resources into a folly whose final price is
looking more and more likely to be the end of Israel as a Jewish, democratic
But unlike Netanyahu, Shamir was a man of his word. He made no
pretense of being interested in peace with the Arabs; he would certainly have
never made a speech along the lines of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, promising to
work for a two-state solution, even if, like Netanyahu, he had no intention of
turning the speech into reality.
However, there is one great similarity
between the two men: both ignored the feelings of “the man on the street.” In
the end, it was not the first intifada which brought down Shamir’s government
and caused the election victory of Yitzhak Rabin, who truly changed Israeli
society despite a razor-thin majority in the Knesset, but rather growing public
discontent with the economic incompetence and atmosphere of sleaze which
surrounded Shamir’s Likud party.
As Saturday night’s demonstrations in
Tel Aviv showed, the country’s silent majority has finally woken up over the
issue of haredi draft-dodging. If Netanyahu does not begin to address this issue
with seriousness it demands, he will pay a heavy political price the next time
the country goes to the polls.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.