Yair Lapid 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
As the Knesset begins its summer session today, we’ll finally get the chance to
see whether the new politics promised by Yair Lapid and his fellow musketeer
Naftali Bennett actually comes to fruition. And of course, the new session will
also ensure that Finance Minister Lapid eventually addresses the plenum as
opposed to updating his Facebook status.
The two major issues facing the
Knesset over the next three months are the passing of the state budget for
2013-14, which will be the first and sternest test of the new finance minister,
and the completion of the Equal Burden for All legislation to set down the
guidelines for drafting young haredi men into the IDF.
Even before Lapid
brings his budget to the Knesset, he will first have to overcome the fierce
opposition of many of his cabinet colleagues to the cuts he’s
In such a scenario, no finance minister can succeed without
the strong backing of the prime minister, but Lapid should not take Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s full support as a given.
Netanyahu is well
aware that Lapid has begun to see himself as the country’s next premier, which
does not necessarily make him well disposed toward his finance minister. Time
magazine’s decision last week to include Lapid in its list of the 100 most
influential people in the world, while leaving Netanyahu out for the first time
in a couple of years, will also not have helped the prime minister’s feelings
towards the young pretender.
After all, it was only less than a year ago
that Time was busy heralding “King Bibi.”
But Netanyahu also understands
the seriousness of Israel’s economic situation and the importance of not
following in the wake of Spain, Greece and Cyprus. The prime minister will no
doubt ensure an economically responsible budget is passed, but at the same time
he will make certain Lapid takes the brunt of the public criticism that is bound
to come with the painful measures to be implemented.
Lapid would be wise
not to allow this political baptism by fire to distract him from his second
battle, that of passing the Equal Burden for All legislation. It was their
promise of ending the state-sponsored haredi IDF draft exemption, alongside some
exceptional electioneering, that swept Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Bennett’s Bayit
Yehudi into their dominant role in Netanyahu’s government.
The issue of
the IDF draft is a fateful one for the haredi world as, along with the
introduction of compulsory secular subjects into the haredi school curriculum,
it opens the eyes of young haredim to a world outside the yeshiva study hall.
The haredi parties, Netanyahu’s faithful coalition allies of the past and still
his preferred partners, will fight with all their might against this
It will be Lapid and Bennett’s job to insist the prime
minister not buckle under the pressure and water down the planned
A failure on their part here will doom the rest of this
government’s tenure and destroy the promise of the fresh new faces in the
Knesset and around the cabinet table.
Less importantly, but still
significant, the upcoming election of the country’s chief rabbis in three
months’ time will also show whether the new government reflects a break with the
past or is simply the continuation of politics as usual.
Of course, the
country doesn’t actually need one chief rabbi, never mind two (one Ashkenazi,
one Sephardi). There is no halachic basis for a chief rabbi and the institution
is a Mandate-era body that should have been abolished the minute the British
left the country.
However, one has to accept that today it will probably
take the coming of the Messiah to do away with this body, given the
jobs-for-the boys it provides to whichever haredi faction happens to control
The chief rabbis are elected by a body comprising 80 rabbis and 70
mainly secular public figures, including ministers, Knesset members and city
mayors. A clear favorite for the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi among the secular
public is Rabbi David Stav, the chief rabbi of Shoham and chairman of the Tzohar
organization, which seeks to make Orthodox Judaism more palatable to the secular
Not surprisingly, the haredi parties oppose Stav’s candidacy, as
do members of the more religiously extreme Tekuma faction of Bayit Yehudi, whom
Bennett succeeded in hiding during the election campaign.
country’s new chief rabbis turn out to be a rehash of the old familiar
black-hatted faces – Shas is busy pushing for a change in the law to allow
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to run for a second 10-year term – then we’ll
know that in many cases, it’s still business as usual in the country’s political
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of