King Bibi? Think again

Based on what our PM appears ready to legislate to replace Tal Law... Netanyahu simply does not fit definitions of a king.

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)
Time magazine’s editors sure got it wrong when they labeled prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu “King Bibi.”
I looked up the word “king” in various dictionaries and, among many definitions, I came across the following: a) the chief authority over a country and people b) one that presides over or rules c) the male ruler of an independent state.
Based on what our prime minister appears ready to legislate to replace the Tal Law, based on the Keshev Committee’s recommendations for “equality” in sharing national responsibilities, Netanyahu simply does not fit these definitions.
The Keshev Committee (“Progress on equality for national responsibilities”) was created to once and for all establish equality in Israeli society with regard to serving the country.
The situation in which tens of thousands of young men receive military exemptions to enable them to exclusively study Torah is no longer acceptable to the rest of the country.
It is literally tearing the country apart. So, with great fanfare, Kadima entered the government and this coalition of 94 mandates took on this important issue as its primary focus.
On May 9, I wrote a column called “Opportunity to right decades of wrongs” in which I challenged the prime minister to make sweeping changes to improve the future of the country and heal Israeli society. While the issue of inequality in service applies to the Arab sector, as well, I focused on the haredi issue given the fact that the Prime Minister could finally do so without the fear of the extremist ultra-Orthodox parties breaking up the government. Issues of extremism in the rabbinate, discrimination, and inequality with regard to service could finally be properly and rightly addressed. I asked whether the prime minister would rise to the occasion. We appear to have our answer.
Some of the committee’s imminent recommendations, such as opening hesder yeshivot for haredim and increasing the units in the current haredi battalion, are welcome changes. The idea to provide yeshivot which send boys to service programs and to penalize those that don’t is also a step in the right direction.
However, the positive ends there.
All indications point to Netanyahu being on the verge of what I view as one of the most damaging acts of caving to a minority interest in our country’s history. It appears as though the Keshev Committee will enable haredi boys to defer service until the age of 23. At that point various options will become available – army, police, fire service, etc. – and they will have to serve for just two years. How can this new policy be viewed as “equality in national responsibilities” on any level? Does anyone really think that haredi boys will actually serve beginning at the age of 23 after most are married with children? Netanyahu’s imminent failure extends beyond the issue of the number of years haredi boys can study before their two years of service.
As was widely reported last week, he is apparently at odds with committee members regarding the financial incentives because he is concerned about the financial damage to the yeshivot. Translation: the prime minister already knows that the yeshivot will not send boys to serve and he doesn’t want them to suffer the resulting sanctions.
Of course, politics involves some degree of compromise. I believe that most of the country can understand a two-year deferral of the draft to enable a boy to study Torah until age 20 and to then serve the country. I also know that most of the country embraces the idea of community service. Can anyone argue that a yeshiva boy studying full time for two years and then continuing his studies while volunteering in a local hospital or helping the elderly is contrary to Torah values? That is compromise.
Even the most secular leaders even accept the idea of an elite group to focus exclusively on Torah study. The average haredi on the street understands and embraces these compromises.
In fact, many are waiting for the government to step in and free them from the current system. Therefore, the legislation which seems to be taking shape to replace the Tal Law is simply giving in to an extremist minority for reasons beyond understanding.
LET’S BE clear. By caving on this issue, Netanyahu, who no doubt knows that haredim not serving is wrong and not representative of Torah values, is proving that he is not “the chief authority over a country and people.” Rather, Moshe Gafni from the extremist Degel Hatorah party and Eli Yishai from the Shas party are the chief authorities here.
Similarly, he does not “preside over or rule.” Yishai and Gafni call the shots. And, finally, he is not the “ruler of an independent state” since we no longer appear to be an independent state.
Rather, we are a people stuck under the totalitarian rule of religious extremists who believe that leaving yeshiva to serve in the IDF is akin to murder, idolatry and adultery, as Eli Yishai recently proclaimed. Gafni and Yishai have proven that they not only hold an absolute monarch- and despot- like stranglehold over their own communities, but also over our entire country.
The good news is that while King Yishai and King Gafni enjoy their coronation, the rest of the country will hopefully see that Netanyahu is not a king and he does need to go through an election cycle to maintain his post. The country is in need of a new, courageous and visionary leader who will look the extremist parties in the eye and create equality in this country and heal our internal rifts.
Perhaps that person will be worthy of the coronation which was apparently premature for Netanyahu.
The author is an educator, author and community activist in Beit Shemesh.