The political machinery in Israel is gearing up for the next election. By law, a vote for a new Knesset must be called by late next year. But in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, elections could come as early as this January. And if such early elections are triggered, the implications could be significant.
Last week’s Supreme Court decision requires the Knesset to pass a new law to draft haredi Orthodox yeshiva students, and directs that the law be in place by Dec. 2. Although the drafting of these men — who have long enjoyed an exemption from military and/or national service — is a goal of virtually all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners, it is anathema to his haredi partners, whose continued participation in the government is necessary in order for Netanyahu to remain as prime minister. Were the haredi parties to quit the government over the extension of the draft to their constituency, their departure would deprive Netanyahu of his majority and trigger new elections.
When the issue of some form of government service by haredi men has come up before, we supported it. We argued then — and continue to believe now — that in order for Israel to function as an integrated society, all segments of that society need to make the same effort to work for the greater good. As such, if some form of mandatory service is the law in Israel, it should apply to Israel’s haredi citizens as it does to every other Israeli.
The haredi parties will face a difficult choice, since a decision to topple the government over the drafting of yeshiva students may only achieve a pyrrhic victory. All that is needed is a slight shifting in the deck of the right-wing parties in order to create a new governing coalition without haredi representation. And if the haredi parties are not part of the governing coalition, the haredi community could suffer severe financial consequences in the cutting back of government subsidies.
There would likely be other consequences as well, such as the loosening of the haredi stranglehold on the Chief Rabbinate pertaining to all aspects of Jewish life. Those kinds of potential repercussions make the anticipated elections a very big deal.
There are, of course, other electoral issues. One of the major concerns is whether Netanyahu will continue to lead in the next government, especially considering the ongoing legal scandals potentially implicating his office. And then there is the continuing violence on the Gaza border, for which some Israelis already give Netanyahu bad grades.
Despite these threats, Netanyahu may have inoculated himself with the recent passage of the controversial Nation-State Law, which is popular with Israel’s rightward leaning political mainstream. If he can maintain that backing and avoid threatened indictments, chances are pretty good that Netanyahu could survive a haredi defection. PJC