Moshe 'Bogie' Ayalon (L), Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi anounce the Blue and White Party.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The very day that Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party announced that they were running together, United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler warned of “a civil war” that was beginning and described it as “a missile attack on the haredi community.”
In slightly less apocalyptic tones, UTJ leaders Ya’acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni issued a statement to the press with exceeding alacrity, stating that they would not join a government with Lapid and Gantz, describing the pact as “a union for the division of the people and incitement against the traditions of the Jewish people.”
Just what has aroused the ire of UTJ?
The answer is easy. During his tenure as Finance Minister with Yesh Atid the largest and most dominant coalition partner after Likud, Lapid advanced a series of policies which were seen as extremely antagonistic to the haredi sector.
Yesh Atid cut the budget for stipends paid by the state to yeshiva students by more than half, significantly cut child allowances that disproportionately benefited the haredi community because of the large size of the average haredi family, and cut housing benefits enjoyed by the haredi sector.
Lapid was unable to implement other planned cuts to the welfare budget enjoyed by the haredi community when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated early elections in 2015.
Yesh Atid’s cuts to the various budgets, stipends and welfare benefits hitherto granted to the haredi community generated intense anger and hatred towards it and its leader, and are frequently referred to by the haredi political and rabbinic leadership, as well as the haredi media, in almost Biblical terms as the “decrees of Lapid.”
Although these policies were much hated by the haredi leadership, they did lead to a significant increase in male haredi employment reaching as high as 52% of the sector.
The current government, at the behest of UTJ and Shas, reversed almost every one of Yesh Atid’s policies, however, and male haredi employment has once again declined.
But it was not only budgetary cuts that got the goat of the haredi parties.
Lapid famously set about revoking the mass exemptions from military service afforded haredi yeshiva students and passed a law that was designed to bring about mass haredi enlistment.
The law brought hundreds of thousands of haredi men and women to the streets of Jerusalem in a massive demonstration against the law, which ultimately proved fruitless since it was approved in the Knesset anyway.
The current government, at the behest of the haredi parties, subsequently eviscerated the law before it could be fully implemented, but the High Court of Justice struck down the new arrangement as unconstitutional, leaving a yawning legislative chasm over haredi enlistment waiting to be filled by the next government.
The danger that Lapid will get to fill this space with a new law drafting haredi yeshiva students into the army is another reason why the haredi parties are so worried about the Gantz-Lapid alliance.
AND THEN there is Gantz himself. In his maiden political speech at the end of January, Gantz himself promised various policies that are pure anathema to the haredi community.
In just a few short sentences, Gantz pledged to institute civil unions, a form of civil marriage, an idea hated by the haredi parties since it allows for interfaith marriage proscribed by Jewish law, public transportation on Shabbat, “full rights” for gay Israelis and vowed to prevent the exclusion of, and discrimination against, women.
To the haredi ear, these all sound like a full-out attack on its lifestyle and beliefs, and the haredi leadership began speaking out against such proposals immediately.
Now that Gantz has coupled himself to Lapid, and with the polls predicting that Blue and White – as the new joint party is called, will become the largest party in the coming elections, the warning lights for the haredi parties are well and truly flashing.
Given this state of affairs, the haredi parties are now in something of a panic. Eichler insisted that a UTJ breakaway group called the Jerusalem Faction, numbering several tens of thousands of voters but which boycotted the last elections, must vote for the haredi party to prevent civil unrest should Blue and White take power.
And UTJ MK Uri Maklev also talked on Sunday of the importance of haredi voters voting for the haredi parties and not Likud, as some 25,000 haredi voters did in 2015, while UTJ candidate Yitzhak Pindrus tried to dismiss the candidacy of haredi woman Omer Yankelevich for Israel Resilience as “decoration.”
It would appear that the haredi leadership does have good reason to fear a government led by Blue and White with their bete noire Lapid apparently ready to take on haredi interests once again.
What is certain is that every weapon in the arsenal of the haredi parties will be deployed to ensure they do not make it into power.
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