Were there any question at all about whether the unconstitutionality of the Tal Law is going to bring a wholesale change to Haredi military exemptions, this weekend’s events should put an end to any speculation that it will. First there was the refusal of Netanyahu and Likud to postpone the Knesset dissolution despite the fact that its largest coalition partner, Yisrael Beiteinu, has formally requested that it do so. Yisrael Beiteinu has wanted to introduce its Tal Law replacement bill that would require mandatory Haredi military or national service, but because there is a chance that the YB bill will have the support of the majority of the Knesset, Netanyahu and Likud were not willing to risk that happening. A few hours ago, the Yisrael Beiteinu bill and another similar bill proposed by Atzmaut MK Einat Wilf were surprisingly approved for submission by the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs but then frozen by Shas minister Meshulam Nahari, which means that they will not be brought before the Knesset for a vote for the time being. This should put to rest the speculation being floated that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu are going to run on a joint ticket since if that were to happen Likud would not now be placing so many hurdles in Yisrael Beiteinu’s path. The reason, of course, that the Knesset is being dissolved now before the bill can be introduced and passed, is because Netanyahu and Likud need to do everything in their power to keep the Haredi parties happy so as not to have them jump ship when it comes time to form the new coalition after the elections. Netanyahu needs them in the fold to form a government without Yisrael Beiteinu, and Likud governments have a long and happy history of relying on Shas and UTJ (and the NRP in the old days) to build coalitions since the Haredi parties generally have no demands outside of being able to control the religious affairs and interior ministries and are content to leave Likud alone on other issues. The end run around Yisrael Beiteinu is a concession to Likud’s Haredi partners, and no doubt Likud is now expecting them to fall in line after the elections in September. Bibi particularly needs Haredi support following the hardline revolt within Likud yesterday that temporarily denied him the presidency of his own Likud convention, since he now needs to get his own house in order and will not need any other outside distractions.
It is not only Likud, however, that is trying to buy Haredi support. Last week, Yair Lapid announced his proposal that would extend the blanket Haredi military exemption for another five years. This was quite the backtrack from his previous strident position that Shas and UTJ had the country and various ministries wrapped around their fingers and that the Tal Law should be completely revoked. Lapid has also recently announced his willingness to serve in a future Netanyahu coalition and is a newcomer to politics with his new Yesh Atid party, and since his raison d’etre seems to be his own political advancement it is perhaps unsurprising that does not want to make an enemy out of Netanyahu’s probable coalition partners.
More surprising is Shelly Yachimovich and Labor’s sudden turn toward the Haredim. Last night, the Labor party leader said that the Haredi parties would be good coalition partners for her were she to lead the government. In a fit of rhetorical mind bending, she also claimed that she and the Haredim are ideological bedfellows. This is the textbook definition of pandering, and it just reiterates that the Avigdor Lieberman era is over. It might be that the Knesset as it is currently configured would support a bill that makes Haredi military service mandatory, but now that election season is upon us, the Haredi agenda is outside the danger zone once again. When Lapid and Yachimovich are giving Shas a free pass and even making outrageous claims about the ideological compatibility of leftwing socialism and ultra-Orthodox religious fundamentalism, it means that the handwriting is on the wall as regards Netanyahu’s future coalition partners. With Netanyahu poised to coast to another term as prime minister, and Shas and UTJ all but guaranteed coalition spots, expect Mofaz as well to soon join the chorus of those reassuring Haredi voters that the Netzah Yehuda battalion is not slated to grow any time soon.