PM Binyamin Netanyahu and FM Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
The government’s three senior ministers – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – all
scrambled to announce that they will propose alternatives to the Tal Law, a day
after the High Court declared it constitutional.
Meanwhile, United Torah
Judaism and Shas have mostly kept mum on the subject, but are clearly unhappy
with possible changes in the so-called “status quo.” The “status quo” is a term for the balance of Jewish religious elements in Israeli democracy – including
marriage and divorce according to Halacha, as well as the exemption of women and
many Torah scholars from military service. The “status quo” is also part of the
coalition agreement, as Shas and UTJ have the power to veto any bill or policy
that may change it.
Who will win? Are winds of change blowing, or will
the status quo stand strong? Or, will the clash between them topple the current
government? The real question is: How long can Netanyahu balance Israel Beiteinu
on one hand, and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties on the other? After weeks of
talk about whether Netanyahu would call early elections, the date of this
government’s demise – whether by the prime minister’s choice or coalition crisis
– seems clearer than ever: July, as the Tal Law’s August 1 expiration date
Two weeks ago, this government passed the three-year mark,
something that has not occurred in two decades. Most of the coalition’s parties
are committed to staying together and working out issues from within – each for
its own reasons, of course.
At the same time, it seems like the coalition
is living out the Western cliché: This town ain’t big enough for the two of
Each party is pulling in a different direction and the chasm between
Israel Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism and Shas seems to be wider than
Liberman seems confident that he will get his way, congratulating
the High Court for adopting Israel Beiteinu’s platform following their decision
on the Tal Law.
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“I think everyone understands, both in the coalition and
the opposition, that there’s no other way,” Liberman said on Wednesday
At the same time, Israel Beiteinu held a conference on Tuesday
about changing the system of government, in which Deputy Foreign Minister Danny
Ayalon emphasized over and over again that stability is a priority for the
In fact, nearly any time Israel Beiteinu has opposed coalition
parties – usually Shas and UTJ – on an issue, either Liberman or Tourism
Minister Stas Meseznikov has asserted the party’s power as the “senior coalition
partner,” while saying that they are also a responsible partner that finds
working within the coalition more effective than breaking it up.
with recent polls showing Liberman’s party weakening slightly, calling elections
at this juncture would put them at a disadvantage, which could be overcome by a
creative new solution for “sharing the burden equally,” as Israel Beiteinu puts
Barak is less of a player in this game, as his party is unlikely to
pass the elections threshold, and leaving the coalition would only hurt
Independence. Plus, the party was seemingly founded for the express reason of
allowing its leader to remain defense minister while other Labor members could
join the opposition.
If they learn from recent experience, the haredi
parties probably only have what to gain by remaining in the coalition. After
all, Shas basically won the affordable housing battle, despite outrage by Israel
Beiteinu and Independence.
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias
and Netanyahu agreed on a system in which those who served in the IDF receive
However, the ultra-orthodox are still more likely to qualify
for affordable housing, because of additional points for each child and each
year of marriage.
Therefore, Shas and UTJ are likely to buy time until
July, when they can enrage their coalition partners by using their right to veto
bills involving religion, or even leave the coalition because it favors drafting
Where is Habayit Hayehudi in all of this? Party leader Science
and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz presented a lukewarm speech on the
issue in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, making it glaringly obvious that the
Tal Law is not their priority.
Finally, we have Netanyahu and Likud, who
have to keep the team together. The prime minister has almost succeeded in
striking a balance between ultra- Orthodox parties and Israel Beiteinu, though
the housing issue is a glaring exception, since Israel Beiteinu MK Faina
Kirschenbaum is bringing Attias’s policy to the High Court. How long can
Netanyahu play both sides? After all, the prime minister does not seem excited
about the prospect of dissolving the coalition early when the government is so
strong and long-lasting, though some of his senior advisers are telling him to
That is why waiting until July is his best bet. He only stands to
gain political points in the next elections by standing up to haredim – and that
standoff is set to take place this summer.
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