“If they give, they will get; if they don’t give, they will not get.”
“If they give, they will get; if they don’t give, they will not get.”Benjamin Netanyahu
That line, coined by presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term in office in the late 1990s, summed up the reciprocity he wanted to see in diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians.
It also adequately sums up the approach he has taken so far in negotiations with his coalition partners. Their strong showing gave him an election victory and the opportunity to return to the prime minister’s office – and in return, they will get things from him as prime minister.
What Netanyahu is willing to give to his allies in order to become Israeli prime minister
A lot, as it turns out.
First came Itamar Ben-Gvir, who demanded expanded authority as the country’s first national security minister. “It’s yours,” said Netanyahu. Then came Bezalel Smotrich, who demanded control over the Civil Administration. “You got it,” replied Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said yes to Avi Maoz’s demand to control the branch that oversees external content in the education system, despite the Noam leader’s open aversion toward the LGBTQ community. He also said yes to Shas’s demand to amend the law and make it possible for Arye Deri – who in January copped a plea in a tax evasion charge – to serve as the head of not one ministry, but two.
Will Netanyahu meet United Torah Judaism's debands?
Now it’s United Torah Judaism’s turn. They, too, had a hand in Netanyahu’s electoral victory, so they, too, will get. But they want more than just a ministry or a Knesset committee chairmanship. They have reportedly presented Netanyahu with a list of demands that, if met, would put Israel’s foot on the path toward becoming a state run by Halacha (Jewish Law – literally, “walking”).
Here is a partial list of what the UTJ has reportedly demanded: Fully automated electricity generation on Shabbat, something that will cost an estimated NIS 100 million a year; a Chief Rabbinate representative on the Labor Ministry’s panel that gives Shabbat work permits; more gender-segregated beaches; affirmative action for haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) applying for jobs in government companies; and additional discounts on public transportation in predominantly haredi cities.
They also want the establishment of state-funded bodies to answer halachic questions, to give hospitals the right to ban chametz (leavened grain products) on Passover, let citizens demand to be buried in the ground rather than in above-ground vertical structures meant to save space, and increase stipends to yeshiva students.
While it is unclear whether the Likud agreed to any of these demands, that UTJ even raised them shows both a gross misunderstanding of Israeli society, and a belief that there are no limits to what Netanyahu will give to become prime minister again.
Centuries ago, rabbis Shimon ben Gamliel and Elazar bar Tzadok instituted a cardinal principle brought down in the Talmud: sages should issue a decree upon the community only if most of the community is able to abide by it.
There was enormous wisdom in that dictum, because if the rabbis tried to institute practices that the public would not follow, not only would those decrees not be followed, but the rabbis would lose standing in the eyes of the public.
UTJ’s leaders would be wise to heed that advice.
The party’s wish-list is not something that Israeli society will bear, and it creates the appearance that the haredim are not just trying to preserve their way of life, but rather trying to push it on everyone else. Such an effort will create a harsh counter-reaction.
These demands are also a test for Netanyahu.
In his final speech to the Knesset in 2021 before handing the reins of prime minister to Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu said: “An Israeli prime minister must be able to say no to the president of the United States on matters that endanger our existence.”
“An Israeli prime minister must be able to say no to the president of the United States on matters that endanger our existence.”Benjamin Netanyahu
Likewise, an Israeli prime minister must be able to say no to the outrageous demands of coalition partners on matters that endanger Israel’s existence as a Jewish liberal democracy.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu reacted in the Knesset to UTJ’s reported demands and said his government “will preserve the status quo.”
“Everyone will live by their own faith. This will not become a nation of religious law,” he declared. “We were elected to lead in our way, the way of the nationalist Right and the way of the liberal Right, and so we shall do.”
We fervently hope that Netanyahu not only means what he says, but also acts fully in that spirit.