Winners and losers in the haredi IDF enlistment extravaganza

In the fight over the haredi conscription legislation, Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid, the ultra-Orthodox, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu come out on top, while the middle class will continue to bear the burden.

Haredi protest IDF, Jerusalem, February 6, 2014 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi protest IDF, Jerusalem, February 6, 2014
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday that haredi enlistment was too serious an issue to allow for dwelling on the winners and losers.
But it is also too political an issue not to know who won and lost. The following are the winners and losers in the fight over the haredi draft legislation.
The Winners Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid
Did they keep their campaign promise to equalize the burden of IDF service? No. The overwhelming majority of haredim will still go learn Torah while their secular counterparts go to the army, and religious- Zionists will still serve a year and a half less through the hesder program.
Did they keep their campaign promise to bring haredim into the workforce and the tax base? Probably not. Thousands of haredim will now be exempt from military service and free to leave their yeshivas, work and make money. But peer pressure, societal norms, and respect for rabbis and parents will keep the overwhelming majority of haredim in their yeshivas even if they are not learning seriously.
Those who worked under the table, though, will now be able to be paid legally.
So why are Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party winners? Because much of the public cannot distinguish between a strict plan to force yeshiva students to serve, and what is in the process of being passed in the Knesset.
Lapid and the heads of his party are declaring victory, and they are very persuasive people. They can rightly say that criminal sanctions on draft dodgers will now apply to haredim as well as secular people.
But they won’t be able to prove that haredi evaders will be imprisoned until sanctions take effect in 2017, and the next election will almost certainly take place before that.
The haredim Expect to see mass demonstrations and prayer rallies against the haredi draft legislations over the coming days and weeks. In their prayers, they will ask God to “cancel the evil decree.”
But in closed conversations, those same haredim admit that it could be so much worse. As one haredi spokesman said this week: “There is no way Yair’s father [the late secularist leader Tommy Lapid] would have accepted this plan.”
The haredim will put on a show, because they know that if they don’t, next time it will indeed be worse. There are also internal battles among the haredim that require the moderates to show the hard-liners that they, too, can take a tough stand.
But don’t believe it. The haredim are not upset about the enlistment legislation. They are very much relieved.
Bayit Yehudi Party leader Naftali Bennett boasts that the bill passing through the committee of his confidante, MK Ayelet Shaked, is exactly what he drew up in his kitchen with Lapid shortly after the January 2013 election.
The bill does not have everything Lapid wanted. It does have everything Bennett wanted.
Bayit Yehudi wanted more haredim to serve, but did not want a plan that forces all the black-hatted students in Bnei Brak to put on army green. The hesder yeshivas have been protected, and the top religious- Zionist learners will now have an easier time avoiding service completely. Bennett has proven to hard-liners in his party that his controversial bond with Lapid has paid off for his constituents.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu In Jacob’s blessing to his son Binyamin, he compared him to a ravenous wolf. But when it has come to the enlistment bill, Netanyahu has been silent as a lamb.
He did not take a lead role in the effort to draft haredim, because he knows how much the haredim have helped him politically in the past. He will be able to say later that he was dragged into the purportedly anti-haredi legislation by Lapid, Bennett and the Supreme Court.
Will going against the haredim harm Netanyahu’s political future? Not at all. Chances are, he will form one more coalition government, and it will be ahead of 2017 when the sticks in the legislation take effect.
The haredi parties will be so desperate to enter the government and cancel the bill that they may even join for as low a price as Kadima received when it entered Netanyahu’s coalition with only one minister in an attempt to draft haredim in 2012. Yesh Atid’s price will also be low to join the next government and keep the legislation intact.
Had Netanyahu opposed criminal sanctions, his coalition could have been endangered. Now he has the industrial quiet he needs to deal with the perilous diplomatic issues ahead.
The Losers The secular middle class
They will continue to shoulder the burdens of IDF service, work and taxes. They might see some more beards in their army units and at work, but they will not see equality, and they will continue to kvetch.
Lapid and his Yesh Atid MKs have taken to the streets in recent weeks to persuade their constituents that they are serving them well. But their voters are skeptical people who have not proved their loyalty, and they cannot be counted upon.
The more the secular middle class understands the legislation, the more upset they will become.
Chances are many will look for a new party next election.
Labor Will Labor be that party which the frustrated secular middle-class voters turn to in the next election? Probably not.
While Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel, who still does reserve duty, cries out passionately against the legislation, the face of a party is its leader.
There is a reason why Labor chairman Isaac Herzog is not leading demonstrations against the coalition’s bill. Herzog was one of the members of the Tal Commission, which failed to bring about mass haredi conscription.
The interviews he gave the day the commission’s report was released to the public in 2000 would be very embarrassing if seen now. His predecessor, Shelly Yacimovich, also cannot talk on the matter today, because she is vocally against coercing haredim to serve.
The prophets of doom: Elazar Stern and Moti Yogev These two religious-Zionist MKs loathe each other. But they have in common that they have been among the lone voices trying to alert the public about what is in the bill, and what has been left out.
Stern (Hatnua) was silenced by Shaked when she tried to steamroll the legislation through her committee.
Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) showed his seriousness as an MK when he asked for revisions in the bill Wednesday night, disproving a Yediot Aharonot column that called him the Knesset’s new dunce.
But sorry, Stern and Yogev, no one is listening to you.
Judea, Samaria and Beit Shemesh
The haredim have no tools to take revenge against Netanyahu. In the opposition, there is also little they can do to Lapid.
But they can get their revenge against Bayit Yehudi in three ways.
First of all, the haredim still control the Chief Rabbinate and can use their power there to try to block reforms by Bennett and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
Secondly, there will be an election on March 11 in Beit Shemesh in which haredi Moshe Abutbul will go against Eli Cohen, who is supported by Bayit Yehudi, the Likud, Yesh Atid and virtually everyone not haredi.
Just like the haredim used the election for chief rabbi to let out their frustration over being left out of the coalition, they will try to take advantage of the Beit Shemesh election to let out their anger at the bill that is expected to pass into law in the Knesset the night before the race.
The final way for the haredim to take revenge will be to support US Secretary of State John Kerry’s plans for withdrawing from much of the West Bank. Kerry’s team has taken a keen interest in the haredim, and its members have learned that they are not as right-wing as perceived.
There are thousands of haredi settlers, but they live in communities like Betar Illit that are just over the Green Line, and they will not be forced to move. The hardcore ideological settlements deep in the West Bank are populated by Bayit Yehudi voters.
It is they who may receive the wrath of the haredim, who would not stand in the way if the time comes for the settlers to be evacuated.
Among the soldiers who carry out the evacuation, will there be many haredim? Probably not. They will still be in yeshiva.