A Coalition Scorecard
by Shmuel Winiarz
With UTJ, Shas and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party having inked their agreements with the Likud and Naftali Bennett set to become Israel’s next Education Minister, the coalition of Netanyahu’s 4th government is now clear, and begs the question of what is in store for Klal Yisroel and how will the 20th Knesset differ from the 19th.
UTJ has successfully negotiated the removal of criminal sanctions from the Chareidi enlistment law and has ensured the government will not lend its support to public chilul Shabbos. Whatever the downside (see on), many of our readers will take comfort in this development. Having Moshe Kahlon as the next Finance Minister and his parties’ focus on socio-economic issues also augurs well for Israeli society. Kahlon, the former Minister of Communications, led the “Cellular Revolution” where he opened up the market to competition, thereby drastically reducing prices. Bringing in further free-market oriented reforms and incentivizing entrepreneurship should be his modus operandi. The cost of living crisis is preventing Israelis, particularly young couples, from buying a home and getting ahead, and giving people a hand up and not a handout can do just that.
But beyond the specifics of coalition agreements and jockeying for ministries and committee assignments, the roles the Chareidi parties and the Bayit Yehudi will be playing in the next government are eerily familiar to those knowledgeable with Israeli political history. UTJ and Shas have demanded almost all of the legislation passed by the last government that came at the behest of Yesh Atid, be withdrawn. From child allowances, the enlistment law and weakening the Rabbanut’s control over conversions, rolling back Yesh Atid’s agenda has been mostly successful and in exchange Netanyahu will receive a loyal coalition partner regarding diplomatic and territorial endeavors. The cuts to child allowances are being retroactively annulled so that recent cuts will be for naught. The reversal is so far reaching that MK Eliezer Moses who represents Vizhnitz joked that Netanyahu was being machzir grushaso. This is UTJ and Shas’ traditional role in Likud-led governments, focusing on their sector’s social and educational needs along with maintaining the status quo on religious affairs, (or as Avraham Burg once said, synagogue & state issues). The decidedly secular legacy of the 19th Knesset will be but an aberration and Likud’s “natural partners” will replace it.
Yet as much as the chareidim find themselves in their usual role, Bayit Yehudi also finds itself in a position they had hoped to outgrow. When Naftali Bennett was elected to his party’s leadership, his vision was to modernize and expand the party from being the historical sectoral Mafdal, to being (as its name implies) a house for a broader part of the electorate, including traditional and even secular Jews who shared Bayit Yehudi’s overarching philosophy. They aimed to challenge the Likud’s hegemony of the right. In the last Knesset, Bennett led the party from 3 to 12 seats and polls at the beginning of this recent election campaign had Bayit Yehudi polling at 15-16 seats which would have made them the key coalition partner and be the “third hand on the wheel” as Bennett himself said. Yet the election campaign took a toll on Bayit Yehudi’s popularity and when Netanyahu successfully made the election about himself versus Herzog & Labor, he cannibalized the right wing and Bennett ended up with only 8 mandates to the Likud’s 30. Electoral reality shifted Bennett’s hopes for either the foreign or defense ministries to aiming for a lesser, though still key, role as Education Minister and focusing on the settlements in Yehuda V’Shomron. As Haviv Rettig Gur points out in the Times of Israel, this is emblematic of the return to Bayit Yehudi’s natural priorities, from diplomacy and external leadership to focusing on internal issues they are well acquainted with, including education, settlements and synagogue-state issues. Mafdal’s Zevulun Hammer was the Education Minster for 11 years in 3 different governments and the other ministries Bennett is hoping to secure for his party relate to religious and housing concerns. Bayit Yehudi’s attempt to expand both its constituency and the way it views its role in Israeli society has been curtailed, for now at least, and it has returned to Mafdal’s historic role.
Yet as much as things return to a seemingly “natural order”, things irrepressibly move ahead. The changes Yesh Atid brought were mostly negative, but the silver lining is that Chareidi society has more yeshivos that give at least a rudimentary high school education and there are more bnei torah in Eretz Yisroel who have found gainful employment. This has led to a better balance in Chareidi communities where (baruch hashem) many people engage in “toraso u’mnoso” and many people can also work in the broader economy without being stigmatized. Also, the increased enlistment has helped increase accountability in the yeshivos and there are less people who are enrolled in yeshivos who are not actually learning. In fact, much of the pushback against Lapid’s excessive intrusions focused on the positive, if only incremental, changes that were already occurring within the Chareidi community. Now that the criminal penalties, the linking of funding to the core curriculum and the enforced enlistment quotas have all gone the way of the passenger pigeon, the Torah community cannot allow the internal progress we have made to be arrested. If we do not seize the opportunity ahead, (i.e. to move forward without external meddling) the next Lapidesque ideologue will be even more unsparing.
Perhaps just as illuminative of the new winds blowing on the Torah world is the formation of Yachad. Led by Eli Yishai formerly of Shas and Yoni Chetboun, a Mercaz Haravnik who was the only coalition member who voted against the enlistment law, Yachad did not pass the newly raised electoral threshold but did unite Sephardim & Ashkenazim and the Dati Leumi & Chareidi camps under a banner that focused on what unites the various parts of Torah Jewry. This is emblematic of the new realities. The demarcated lines between different Orthodox camps are being blurred and the Chardal communities and the “moderate chareidim” if you will, realize they have more and more in common.
But truthfully having all the religious parties united for electoral purposes (and the internal significance) is not a new phenomenon. In 1949, Israel held elections for its very first Knesset. Under the name Chazit Datit Me’uchedet aka the United Religious Front, all four religious parties (Hapoel Mizrachi, Mizrachi, Agudas Yisroel & Poalei Agudas Yisroel) ran as part of a political alliance that took 16 seats, making them the 3rd largest party of the Knesset in which they wielded significant political clout.
As we see UTJ and Bayit Yehudi going retro in government we should strive for a further reach into history. Imagine for a moment had R’ Elyashiv, R’ Ovadia Yosef and R’ Ahron Lichtenstein zichronom livracha sat together 10 years ago to discuss the issues facing klal yisroel and how they could guide Torah Jewry on the pressing issues facing Israel and Klal Yisroel, based on the overwhelming commonalities that we sometimes forget about but truly share. What separates segments of Torah Jewry is still extant and we shouldn’t paper over our differences, but surveying the next Israeli coalition and the nuances in Orthodox communities both in Israel and the Diaspora, a new realignment is taking place. Yet that realignment has a storied past.
Shmuel Winiarz is an alumnus of Ner Yisroel and Cardozo Law School. He is presently the Director of Government Affairs at S4 Group.
Hi Shmuel. I agree with your analysis. Unfortunately, one of the flaws is that it takes time to alleviate problems and Israel has too many elections and too many rotating cabinet seats. By the time someone is getting into the thick of the changes necessary, the government falls and there are new elections. Italy comes to mind.
This may just be a lull until the next coalition crisis. 61 is an absoslute majority to quote Menachem Begin,but it opens up the government to constant tension.
If the issue is defense, then it can be stable as it is all rightwing and the chareidim don’t get involved in foreign affairs or defense. Maybe it is better than the USA because if there is gridlock and the government is stymied by the legislature, there are new elections.
My hope is this guy Kahlon will develope an economic plan so that Israelis can get jobs and pay their bills. The ecoomy is so skewed against the average wage earner. But, the Arabs didn’t go away.
“Also, the increased enlistment has helped increase accountability…”
Actually, from what I have read, stats consistently show that Chareidi enlistment decreased after the passing of the enlistment bill, and did not increase.
I think the most critical element for the future is the level of effective education provided in elementary schools. This issue coupled with the level of charedi participation in either the army or national service will impact the Israeli electorate. one recent poll, no longer relevant, asked how people would vote if an another election was needed; it showed Yesh Atid emerging as the largest party.
I can imagine that the financial burden across all of the legitimate needs of the state coupled with those necessitated to form a coalition may, in toto, not be sustainable. were that to occur, Kahalon will either bolt or lose credibility.
the ‘yachad’ faction should NOT be overemphasized. this was essentially an anti Deri faction with a smattering of others [ i would venture 90%+ of DL’s would not vote for a chetboun type faction that favors penalty-free non-draft status for haredim. talk to DL men in the street] . if anything ,compared to the first years of the State , where the status of religion was in doubt with a secular Entity created , and where worldwide haredim were decimated by the Holocaust , a marriage of convenience [actually just a cohabitation] was created whereby zionist and anti-zionist co-religionists ran on one list.
Today, the enormous haredi world is WAY farther to the Right [we wouldnt dare imagine a Rosh Yeshiva appearing at a Yom Haatzmaut function , like in the 50’s in Ohio eg —imagine how weak haredim were if their leaders had to thusly grovel. and the DL world, much more integrated into Secular Israel , in many ways is more at home with the secular parties than the on-the-dole lifestyle that haredi parties represent….
also, the poalei aguda was hounded in vehicles like the Jewish Observer as being anti-torah. the mizrachi scions are further to the right politically and often more left religiously than their predecessors. the irony is that eventually the haredi community will have a rebirth of those who are functionally poalei aguda— working-stiff haredim [even white collar]: and one wonders , will there be a daas tora appropriate for them [because the current leadership vilifies secular education and non-torato umnato lifestyles ] or will they be living renegade lives….
Mr Winiarz is living in a fantasy land. Just because the religious parties were promised what they wanted in the coalition agreement, doesn’t mean that they are in reality going to get it. This is a very, very weak government. Nothing of significance will be done because any single person can bring it down. Does Mr Winiarz think Bayit Yehudi will go along with repealing the draft law when they believe in it and voted for it the first time? Does Mr Winiarz think Kulanu will go along with restoring all the welfare cuts, when they campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility? Does Mr Winiarz think there are winds of change in the charedi world? That’s not what I hear. Nothing of significance. I think Mr Winiarz is being Pollyannish.
@ L.Oberstein – Hello back. Yes the stability of Israel’s coalition is both a strength and a flaw. I grew up in Canada and the parliamentary system of first past the post system causes a lot of tactical voting instead of ppl voting for who they want. In today’s election in the UK you will see the same. Ppl will vote for the Tories over Labour b/c they dont want UKIP or something similar. Israel’s system is more democratic but yes less stable. Also areas do not have direct representatives, you cannot just call your Congressman b/c all 120 MK are your elected officials.
@ Rafael Araujo – I have seen different sources saying different things on that. My fellow Mercaz Hatorah and Ner Yisroel alum Dov Lipman (remember him?) has argued the numbers have increased in either the army or sherut leumi of some kind. But even if you are correct (which might be) that further strengthens the argument that the last government’s legislation stymied the very change they hoped to bring about. Hopefully now, the hostility will subside and real changes can occur in the dati-chiloni and chareidi- dati leumi conversations.
@ Dr. Bill – Yesh Atid tried to turn the chareidim into the bogeyman for any socio-economic problem in Israel. Kahlon does not call himself the “Admor of the Chilonim”. Hopefully the positive reforms that Bennett initiated last term as Minister of the Economy & now what Kahlon plans to do with with fostering competition, reducing taxes and red tape and free trade (he once ran an import export business for auto parts) will create a bigger economic pie that will be able to absorb the costs you mention. (My fiscal conservatism is just too hard to hide 🙂
@ Lacosta – Regarding Yachad, I do respectfully disagree with you. R’ Dov Lior and R Elyakim Levanon are part of the Rabbinic Council for Yachad and encouraged ppl who follow them to support Yachad. In chardal yeshivos and communities like Chevron, Elon Moreh and in Mercaz Harav and in Har Hamor many ppl voted for Yachad and many voted for Bayit Yehudi. I have even heard sources say that part of why R’ Shalom Cohen backed Deri over Yishai (different conversation) is b/c Yishai was always too “friendly with the dati leumi”. Yachad recieved 125k votes just 10k short of the newly raised threshhold and seeing the pictures of Chetboun & Yishai together is indicative of having the “dignity to differ” but work together on what is common. The DL you speak of is not a monolithic group and yes many of them vote for Likud or Bayit Yehudi but far from all.
Regarding R’ Elya Meir Bloch’s attendance in 1954 and the practical zionism of R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz, R’ Zvi Pesach Frank and others I think we agree. Ppl should be aware Agudas Yisroel’s historical position is more Zionist then it is today. However Agudah/Degel are de facto Zionists today if not de jure so attacking them for being “anti-zionist” is rather baseless.
“The silver lining is that Chareidi society has more yeshivos that give at least a rudimentary high school education and there are more bnei torah in Eretz Yisroel who have found gainful employment.” I have never seen one of these yeshivos and I find it hard to believe that they exist. If anyone has, please post the name and address.
Rabbi Shmuel Winiarz, Why the continued exaggeration? The chareidim as bogeymen for ANY socio-economic problem? Get serious. Kahalon supposedly negotiated the right to oppose legislation without major consequences. It allowed Netanyahu to promise everyone everything. Do you think no math and science will get support from any (non-chareidi) party? There will likely be decriminalization (which the supreme court will likely overturn) and some possible increase in subsidies. I doubt more is feasible. I think this provides chareidim a chance to seriously try to address their issues; I doubt it will happen, outside some chassidic groups, except bottom-up with new leaders and parties.
Shmuel Winiarz I realize this jumps into the realm of speculation, but I think your piece would have been enriched by some thoughts on where this coalition sets us up for the future. My main thought seeing how things have shaken out is that if I am Yair Lapid, this is an ideal outcome in some ways. He can tell secular Israelis “see, you need me in power to keep my policies in place.” Before the election, he had shot his bullets, now he is once again carrying a full clip.
Yitzchok: What about Ma’arava?
@ Sholom – First of all I appreciate the respectful and nuanced tone that screams through your commentary :). Are you arguing that the coalition agreements to UTJ or any other of the coalition members will not be kept? Then that party who will have its promises broken will leave the government. Bayit Yehudi did not support the criminal sanctions and did not support Yesh Atid’s agenda. Bennett said many times he wants to help chareidim get jobs and to be part of the job market. That was his focus not having them in Sayeret Matkal. So yes Bayit Yehudi will most likely agree to have the Enlistment Law significantly changed. In general, Israeli politics (and politics in general) is the art of compromise. Yes a 61 seat majority does not leave a lot of room to breathe but some opposition members will vote for some things as well. And yes I am cautiously optimistic about this coalition’s ability to make progress an a number of fronts. This coalition is simply more cohesive then the last when Yael German (the Health Minister formerly of Meretz) and Orit Struk found themselves in the same coalition.
@ Yitzchok – First of all already in existence for many years there has been the yishuv & ma’arava (and Nehora which is quasi-chareidi) that have a general studies to their component. I know R’Shach said what he said about Ma’arava but it is part of the chareidi yeshiva world today and they mostly go to chareidi yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel after HS including Chevron, Ateres etc… However I have been told by several people living in Eretz Yisroel today that there are about 6-8 high schools (that are admittedly and sadly being billed as second rate to begin with b/c of chareidi pressures) throughout the country that have some degree of technical vocational skills and some of the core curriculum. I will try to get you the specifics. But the economic pressures have simply forced ppl to join the work force and get some training. There is even a party called “TOV” which has run for several city councils and caters towards “working chareidim”.
with due respect to rabbi winiarz,
we live in an era where as recent as this month the Godol Hador was quoted as telling an israeli bochur to avoid a hareilia who studies in college as poison. the hareili mindset is such that their daas tora makes his lifestyle [not only law school , but a YU affiliate] anathema. We have to wait to see to what degree the hareili street is willing to continue to violate openly the express dictates of MoronanVRabonan, as the Yated calls them…
you may see ‘new winds blowing’ , but hareili Daas Torah sees them as vile tornadoes…..
@ Dr. Bill. FIrst of all thanks for the semichah. Yair Lapid uses the chareidim as an excuse for ALMOST EVERY socio-economic issue. Is that a better formulation for you ? At the beginning of the election campaign Lapid was polling at 7-8 seats he then focused his campaign on the themes that criticized chareidim for the accusations you have all heard a million times and that buoyed him to 11 seats. Note when UTJ signed Lapid attacked not the chareidim but Netanyahu for even dealing with chareidim. I think we agree on most though. Now hopefully UTJ and Shas will address some of the internal issues that chareidim are dealing with.
@ Josh Kahn – Interesting idea. I dk the staying power of any “center” party in Israel. The Centre Party, Shinui, Dash, Kadimah have all risen (to varying degrees) and fallen. I dk how relevant Lapid will be as the 3rd largest party in the opposition (unless he beats the anti-chareidi drum as loudly as possible). But you are right with governance comes responsibility (it is easier to be a critic then to govern) and I am hopeful this coalition will do just that.
“in exchange Netanyahu will receive a loyal coalition partner regarding diplomatic and territorial endeavors”
It the statement above is true, it is a travesty. Does Chareidi Judaism have nothing to say about “diplomatic and territorial endeavors”? Will Chareidim really cede control to Netanyahu and Bennett on these matters? Will they allow Israel to embroil itself in diplomatic fights over settlement expansion? Will they ignore the dangers posed to Israel’s international standing by the settlement movement? Rav Shach (who founded Degel Hatorah) was adamantly opposed to settlement building. He forcefully opposed the building of Emanuel and even though he did not instruct Degel to vote for Oslo he forbade his followers from attending anti-Oslo rallies organized by the Mizrachi.
In 1982 American Torah leaders (including Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Shimon Schwab, Rav Mordechai Gifter, Rav Shneur Kotler, Rav Avraham Yaakov Pam, Rav Aharon Schechter, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, and Rav Elya Svei) gathered in Kamenetz Yeshiva in NY to protest those that attacked Rav Shach for his position on settlements and Yishuv Haaretz. Many in attendance reaffirmed that they supported Rav Shach’s views on these matters.
Since the establishment of Beitar, the largest yishuv in Yehuda & Shomron, a Charedi enclave….the words of Rav Shach zt”l re: settlements have almost been forgotten or even ignored!!!
Yachad which places an extremist like Baruch Marzel on its Knesset list can never be considered a Chareidi party. It is at best a Chardal party with typical Mizrachi views on Yishuv Haaretz.
My point is that this outcome saves Lapid from exactly the fate you are describing for typically short lived center parties. And if he gets in and enacts his agenda again, he can tell the Israel public that unless they vote for him a third time, his agenda will just be repealed again.
“Ppl should be aware Agudas Yisroel’s historical position is more Zionist then it is today”
I believe that your statement is factually and historically incorrect. Rav Reuvain Grozovsky laid down the approach of Agudas Yisrael to Zionism in his polemic entitled “Bayos Hazman”. Rav Reuvain’s writings makes some of the current opposition to Zionism look rather tame. Furthermore R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz was not a “practical Zionist” he had real hakoros hatov to the IDF and the state but was strongly opposed to Zionist ideology.
Great succinct summary.I would like to add that nothing is more revealing and equally frustrating as the total lack of interest of the Chareidi parties in promototing the deregulation agenda.Israeli beuracacy is the single biggest impediment to personal economic advancement , yet Yahadus Hatorah has not a word to say about it.The conclusion that the chareidi politicos are very happy with govt dependency and poverty,as it keeps them in power is undeniable. What a disaster!