Bennett rejects Likud Beytenu coalition offer

Officials say PM's proposal was designed to pressure Yesh Atid and Shas; Bayit Yehudi source: Likud has been attacking our party.

Bayit Yehudi Bennett & Netanyahu ad 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Bayit Yehudi Bennett & Netanyahu ad 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett decided on Wednesday to reject a offer from Likud Beytenu of the Education Ministry, a top socioeconomic portfolio, and a deputy defense minister who would deal with settlements, a source close to Bennett said.
Bennett did not like the way the offer was made via the press with a 48-hour take-it-or- leave-it ultimatum attached to it.
Bayit Yehudi officials said they would only deal with portfolios once they received answers on key ideological questions.
“Since the election, the Likud has been acting against Bayit Yehudi,” a source close to Bennett said. “They attacked us non-stop during the election. Then they called every party but us and met with Meretz before us. Then they announced to the press that [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu would meet with us, but did not call us for three days. Here again, they made us an offer on TV and only called us a day later. This is not serious. It smells like a trick to lower the price of the other parties.”
Bayit Yehudi officials said the Education portfolio was clearly included in the deal to pressure Yesh Atid and the Religious Services Ministry was floated to annoy Shas.
They recalled that the head of Bayit Yehudi’s negotiating team, MK Uri Ariel, made a deal with the Likud for the National Union party four years ago but then the Likud abandoned the deal, signed an agreement with Labor, and refused to return Ariel’s calls.
Bennett’s associates made a point of rejecting the Likud Beytenu’s offer in the press because they received the offer via the press. They said Bennett did not receive any calls from officials in his party or religious-Zionist rabbis urging him to accept the offer.
Rabbi Tzafaniya Drori, the municipal rabbi of Kiryat Shmona and a leading figure in the national-religious world, said on Wednesday that any plan to increase haredi enlistment by coercive or forceful methods would cause upheaval in Israeli society and wouldn’t work.
“Even [Yesh Atid chairman Yair] Lapid knows this,” Drori said. “Maybe his current position is a negotiating tactic, because anyone who goes down the path of coercion doesn’t understand Israeli society,” he continued.
The rabbi said that the plan proposed by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon of the Likud was a “more realistic” approach to increasing the number of haredim performing various forms of national service, and that the national-religious rabbinic leadership was strongly opposed to the idea of imposing quotas on the number of yeshiva students able to get exemptions from military service in order to study full time.
Drori emphasized the importance of physical and economic security alongside the spiritual well-being of the state, and added that Bennett “had been even sharper than me” in his defense of the importance of preserving Torah study in Israel.
He also noted that the rabbinic leadership was in ongoing contact with the Bayit Yehudi political leadership.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, municipal rabbi of Beit El, dean of the Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and another leading figure in the national-religious community, similarly rejected the idea of imposing a universal draft on haredi yeshiva students but said it was a mitzva, a religious obligation in Jewish law, to serve in the army in order to protect Jewish lives, protect the Land of Israel and sanctify God’s name.
“We need to gain the trust of the haredi world and the deans of their yeshivas, in order to get more haredi men to enlist and we need to be tolerant because coercion won’t work,” said Aviner, adding that “men of faith and spirituality” were vital to the state.
The rabbi refused to comment on the current political wrangling on the issue, however, saying that he would not address the different positions being presented on the issue in the current coalition negotiations.Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.