Inside Out: A politically volatile summer

The threat of alienating his haredi partners is going to be very difficult for Netanyahu to avoid.

Netanyahu at start of Cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu at start of Cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stands at the head of what appears to be one of the strongest and most stable Israeli coalition governments in recent memory. Faced against a diminutive and divided opposition, Netanyahu would seem to be able to sit back and relax.
But Netanyahu’s coalition is far less secure than meets the eye.
Two of his putative “natural partners,” the pro-settler bloc and the haredim, either already are or are about to become “high maintenance” partners.
Ever since the Migron crisis came to a head last winter with the ruling by the High Court of Justice that the outpost had to be removed, the Netanyahu government has been hard at work trying to appease the right-wing bloc. In an attempt to avoid clashes between the government, the army and the police, on the one hand, and recalcitrant settler activists, on the other, it has done everything in its power to appease the settlers and their supporters.
The government has offered the squatters who set up residence on privately-owned property in Beit El and Migron alternative housing, and has paid off the broader right wing by promising massive construction in the settlements.
The threat of alienating his haredi partners is going to be far more difficult for Netanyahu to avoid.
At some point next week the Keshev Committee, headed by MK Yohanan Plesner from Kadima, will be submitting its recommendations for significantly increasing the haredi draft.
If recent reports in the Hebrew media are correct, the recommendations will mandate a substantive change in the way Israeli haredi men commonly lead their lives, forcing most to serve. As a rally that was held in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood earlier this week showed, those recommendations most certainly will be met with the staunch opposition of the haredi political parties, UTJ and Shas, Netanyahu’s second set of “natural partners,” and are liable to lead to a severe and perhaps irreconcilable coalition crisis.
With so much energy being spent on his two primary coalition partners, the last thing Netanyahu will be able to afford is alienating the more mainstream middle class, a significant portion of which traditionally has voted for the Likud. That is why Netanyahu has good reason to be worried about the prospect of the social protest movement sweeping the streets of Israel once again this summer.
Heading into a budget that is almost certain to contain increased VAT and other taxes, and after spending millions to appease the right-wing bloc, Netanyahu will have little resources left to placate an energized and angry mainstream middle class, if the social protest movement gains momentum.
Moreover, as opposed to last year, in which the main opposition parties, Kadima and the Labor Party, remained aloof from the street protesters, the situation in the summer of 2012 is likely to be very different.
Yair Lapid has been working to position himself as the man who will look out for middle-of-theroad Israel, for the people who work, serve and pay their taxes, but who have no lobby working on their behalf the way the settlers and haredim do. If Lapid taps into the disgruntlement felt by the underrepresented Israelis over the high cost of living and the burdens they are forced to bear, he is primed to gain a great deal of support from people who voted in 2009 for the Likud and other coalition parties.
Kadima’s leadership has also changed since last summer. The lackluster and standoffish Livni has been replaced by Shaul Mofaz, who said upon his election as party chairman he would champion issues of social justice. While Mofaz has proven that his promises can often be taken with a grain of salt, he might nevertheless try to gain political traction by supporting a renewed social protest movement this summer.
Mofaz might even go so far as to lead his party out of the coalition over that issue, particularly if the haredim have left as a result of legislation sponsored by the Kadima-led Keshev Committee, and force early elections.
Netanyahu’s concerns about the political impact of a renewed social protest movement this summer notwithstanding, it is imperative that he and his ministers make it absolutely clear that demonstrators must be allowed their democratic right to protest.
Policemen and officers who were excessively brutal toward demonstrators in Tel Aviv last weekend must be brought up on disciplinary charges, and clear statements need to be made about the need to allow demonstrations to be held, even if they are politically inconvenient for the government.
It is unconscionable that in recent weeks the police summoned key activists from the protest movement to the station houses for “conversations” about their political plans this summer, a course of action that is accepted only in benighted countries.
It is also unconscionable that the police last weekend made mass and indiscriminate arrests of protestors, the overwhelming majority of whom were clearly innocent of any real wrongdoing, and that the police allegedly then prevented the injured from receiving medical attention for hours and even barred some from meeting with lawyers.
The public security minister, the prime minister, the attorney general and the police commissioner all need to make it emphatically clear to the police troops that that behavior is insufferable in a democracy.
It goes without saying that vandalism by demonstrators should not be tolerated and the offenders certainly ought to be prosecuted.
Ultimately, however, the intimidation tactics and the use of excessive force by officers of the law pose a far greater risk to Israel.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.