Time magazine’s editors sure got it wrong when they labeled prime minister
Binyamin Netanyahu “King Bibi.”
I looked up the word “king” in various
dictionaries and, among many definitions, I came across the following: a) the
chief authority over a country and people b) one that presides over or rules c)
the male ruler of an independent state.
Based on what our prime minister
appears ready to legislate to replace the Tal Law, based on the Keshev
Committee’s recommendations for “equality” in sharing national responsibilities,
Netanyahu simply does not fit these definitions.
The Keshev Committee
(“Progress on equality for national responsibilities”) was created to once and
for all establish equality in Israeli society with regard to serving the
The situation in which tens of thousands of young men receive
military exemptions to enable them to exclusively study Torah is no longer
acceptable to the rest of the country.
It is literally tearing the
country apart. So, with great fanfare, Kadima entered the government and this
coalition of 94 mandates took on this important issue as its primary
On May 9, I wrote a column called “Opportunity to right decades of
wrongs” in which I challenged the prime minister to make sweeping changes to
improve the future of the country and heal Israeli society. While the issue of
inequality in service applies to the Arab sector, as well, I focused on the
haredi issue given the fact that the Prime Minister could finally do so without
the fear of the extremist ultra-Orthodox parties breaking up the government.
Issues of extremism in the rabbinate, discrimination, and inequality with regard
to service could finally be properly and rightly addressed. I asked whether the
prime minister would rise to the occasion. We appear to have our
Some of the committee’s imminent recommendations, such as opening
hesder yeshivot for haredim and increasing the units in the current haredi
battalion, are welcome changes. The idea to provide yeshivot which send boys to
service programs and to penalize those that don’t is also a step in the right
However, the positive ends there.
All indications point
to Netanyahu being on the verge of what I view as one of the most damaging acts
of caving to a minority interest in our country’s history. It appears as though
the Keshev Committee will enable haredi boys to defer service until the age of
23. At that point various options will become available – army, police, fire
service, etc. – and they will have to serve for just two years. How can this new
policy be viewed as “equality in national responsibilities” on any level? Does
anyone really think that haredi boys will actually serve beginning at the age of
23 after most are married with children? Netanyahu’s imminent failure extends
beyond the issue of the number of years haredi boys can study before their two
years of service.
As was widely reported last week, he is apparently at
odds with committee members regarding the financial incentives because he is
concerned about the financial damage to the yeshivot. Translation: the prime
minister already knows that the yeshivot will not send boys to serve and he
doesn’t want them to suffer the resulting sanctions.
Of course, politics
involves some degree of compromise. I believe that most of the country can
understand a two-year deferral of the draft to enable a boy to study Torah until
age 20 and to then serve the country. I also know that most of the country
embraces the idea of community service. Can anyone argue that a yeshiva boy
studying full time for two years and then continuing his studies while
volunteering in a local hospital or helping the elderly is contrary to Torah
values? That is compromise.
Even the most secular leaders even accept the
idea of an elite group to focus exclusively on Torah study. The average haredi
on the street understands and embraces these compromises.
In fact, many
are waiting for the government to step in and free them from the current system.
Therefore, the legislation which seems to be taking shape to replace the Tal Law
is simply giving in to an extremist minority for reasons beyond
LET’S BE clear. By caving on this issue, Netanyahu, who no
doubt knows that haredim not serving is wrong and not representative of Torah
values, is proving that he is not “the chief authority over a country and
people.” Rather, Moshe Gafni from the extremist Degel Hatorah party and Eli
Yishai from the Shas party are the chief authorities here.
does not “preside over or rule.” Yishai and Gafni call the shots. And, finally,
he is not the “ruler of an independent state” since we no longer appear to be an
Rather, we are a people stuck under the totalitarian
rule of religious extremists who believe that leaving yeshiva to serve in the
IDF is akin to murder, idolatry and adultery, as Eli Yishai recently proclaimed.
Gafni and Yishai have proven that they not only hold an absolute monarch- and
despot- like stranglehold over their own communities, but also over our entire
The good news is that while King Yishai and King Gafni enjoy
their coronation, the rest of the country will hopefully see that Netanyahu is
not a king and he does need to go through an election cycle to maintain his
post. The country is in need of a new, courageous and visionary leader who will
look the extremist parties in the eye and create equality in this country and
heal our internal rifts.
Perhaps that person will be worthy of the
coronation which was apparently premature for Netanyahu.
The author is an
educator, author and community activist in Beit Shemesh. www.rabbilipman.com.