Benjamin Netanyahu In Tight Spot Over Orthodox Draft Exemption

Coalition Stymied by Pact Between Bennett and Lapid

getty images

By Reuters

Published March 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

A surprise alliance between far-right and centrist Israeli political stars who reject privileges for ultra-orthodox Jews is frustrating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government.

More than a month after Israel’s election, Netanyahu is still without a new coalition, his hopes of enlisting traditionally loyal ultra-Orthodox cabinet partners challenged by a pact between newcomers Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.

Lapid, a former TV anchor who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Bennett, millionaire leader of the far-right Jewish Home, surged into second and fourth place in Israel’s 22 January election, boosted in part by their opposition to blanket military draft exemptions enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox.

Their two parties control a kingmaking 31 of parliament’s 120 seats, as many as Netanyahu’s rightist Likud-Beitenu list, which won the election but with a weaker-than-forecast showing that left him off-balance as he strives for a third term.

Lapid, 49, gained wide backing among young, secular voters and has called for peace talks with Palestinians. Bennett, 40, rejects any future Palestinian state and has strong support among Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.

But despite hailing from different ends of the political spectrum, the two leaders agree on a need to “share the national burden” - a rejection of privileges for the ultra-Orthodox.

Both men say they will not join a Netanyahu-led government without the other. Barring any radical repainting of the current political picture, Netanyahu needs the support of at least one of them to achieve a parliamentary majority.

“My word is my bond,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday, promising to keep to his all-or-nothing pact with Lapid.

That position is effectively keeping religious parties out of a potential cabinet, dashing Netanyahu’s hopes for a broad coalition including proven allies that backed his policies while receiving generous state funding for religious institutions.

“The main reason I have not finished forming a government is because there is a boycott of a sector in Israel, and this is unacceptable from my perspective,” Netanyahu said on Saturday, accusing Lapid and Bennett of blackballing the ultra-Orthodox.

Netanyahu, 63, made the remarks during a stiff, formal audience with President Shimon Peres, who approved the prime minister’s request for more time to build a coalition.

A 28-day period to do so has already expired and if Netanyahu - now with an extra 14 days - fails to break the deadlock in coalition talks by March 16, Peres can pick another candidate or call a snap election.

So far, Netanyahu has recruited only one party, centrist Hatnua, led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni. He was due to hold further talks with Bennett later on Sunday.

On his Facebook page, Lapid said he did not believe that Netanyahu’s current ultra-Orthodox allies, Shas and United Torah Judaism, could be part of a government that wants to make fundamental changes in state benefits for the devout.

“Politicians sometimes have to be ready to pay the price of their convictions. The only conclusion is that it would be no tragedy if they sit in the opposition in the coming term,” Lapid wrote about the religious parties.

Shas leader Eli Yishai appeared to concede on Sunday, saying on Facebook: “In the coming days, a government will finally be formed, without the ultra-Orthodox.”

With Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and Hatnua - and excluding the ultra-Orthodox, who won 18 parliamentary seats - Netanyahu could have a majority government controlling 68 seats. Recruitment of another centrist party, Kadima, would give him 70 seats.

But it could be an uncomfortable mix for Netanyahu, whose government’s survival would then be in Bennett’s and Lapid’s hands, vulnerable to their differences over peace talks.

Netanyahu has pledged ahead of a visit later this month by U.S. President Barack Obama, to try to move forward in peace efforts stalled for the past two years in a dispute over his refusal to halt Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.

Lapid wants to restart the peace negotiations. Bennett would likely oppose any move to renew a settlement construction freeze sought by the Palestinians.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.