As elections loom, haredi absence from army, work takes center stage

As elections loom, haredi absence from army, work takes center stage

Prime Minister Netanyahu expected to announce Sept. 4 date for next elections • Tzipi Livni resigns, says she’s „not sorry I didn’t agree to sell the country to the ultra-Orthodox” • Yair Lapid tells haredim: „Don’t believe anyone who says we hate you.”

Mati Tuchfeld, Gideon Allon, Yehuda Shlezinger, Shlomo Cesana and The Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Preparing to announce date for elections.


Photo credit: AP


Former Kadima chair Tzipi Livni resigned from the Knesset but has not resigned from public service.


Photo credit: Lior Mizrahi


Yair Lapid, head of the new „Yesh Atid” party tells the ultra-Orthodox „We do not hate you.”


Photo credit: KOKO


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Preparing to announce date for elections.


Photo credit: AP


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announce the date of the coming Israeli election early next week, according to senior aides. Netanyahu’s associates say Sept. 4 would be the latest possible date to hold elections before the Jewish High Holy Days, but that Israelis could go to the polls even sooner.


This coming Sunday, Netanyahu will finish sitting shiva (the seven-day mourning period) for his father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, who died on Monday. The prime minister is expected to announce the date for elections as early as Sunday at the Likud faction meeting.


Likud members prefer Aug. 14 for the election, but Netanyahu’s associates said that Sept. 4 is the date a majority of MKs, 61, would likely agree on.


The forthcoming elections and the parties’ need to prepare for them have whipped Israel’s political system into a frenzy. Former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni on Monday tendered her resignation from the Knesset, but is said to be considering forming a new political party ahead of the next election. According to one of her close associates, „If Livni discovers that she can garner about 10 Knesset seats as an independent player, then she’ll go for it.”


If Livni does lead a faction – and the working assumption is that she will take over an inactive but registered party, not launch a new one – several Kadima MKs are expected to join her. If she could get seven MKs to defect, she would effectively split Kadima in two. If she persuaded fewer than seven MKs, they would be forced to resign from the Knesset as well.


Livni, who has not spoken publicly since her loss in the March Kadima primaries, appeared at the Knesset on Tuesday.


Speaking to reporters, Livni said the people of Israel „deserve more” than the current leadership has given them. With peace talks deadlocked for the past three years, she accused the government of ignoring the Palestinians.


Israel is sitting on a „volcano” and its survival as a Jewish, democratic state is in „mortal danger” if it does not find an accommodation with the Palestinians, she said. „The real danger is a politics that buries its head in the sand,” she said.


„I have to consider the continuation of my public path in light of my principles and values,” she said. „I sought to bring the country a different kind of politics, one that favors principles over the seat [of power], one that helps advance goals that benefit the general public, not just personal goals, a politics that lacks cynicism or intoxication with power.”


She continued, „I am not sorry that I refused to surrender to political blackmail and did not agree to exploit state funds or the public’s trust. I am not sorry that I opposed stopping the peace process – the key to Israel’s future – even at the cost of the premiership. Therefore, I am not sorry that I didn’t agree to sell the country to the ultra-Orthodox in order to be prime minister.”


United Torah Judaism chairman MK Israel Eichler accused Livni of inciting against the ultra-Orthodox, saying, „It’s as if the country is hers to sell.”


„Hatred and racism are the enemies of democracy and threaten human freedom and that of the state,” Eichler said. “Specifically in Israel, political leaders make racist remarks, like Ms. Livni who resigned from the Knesset today.”


Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin had words of praise for Livni after receiving her resignation letter. „In my years of service at the Knesset, I have received resignation letters from MKs who left politics or were forced to step down for various reasons. This time, I have no doubt that I received a resignation letter from an MK who has not exhausted her options for the future or her public mission.”


Attorney Yuval Kellner, 34, will take Livni’s Knesset seat. He served as Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz’s chief of staff in the 2008 party primaries.


Following Livni’s resignation, the political spotlight on Tuesday turned to Beit Hatfutsot, of the Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv, where journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid gathered supporters of his new party, „Yesh Atid” (There is a Future). Lapid unveiled a plan for recruiting ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army and to civil service, which was drafted by Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, the army’s former chief education officer, along with journalist Ofer Shelach.


„The scent of elections is in the air,” Lapid told his supporters. „And when the scent of elections is in the air, everyone – all politicians – become concerned citizens and suddenly discover, to their astonishment, that there are more than a few things that need fixing in Israel. One of those things is the idea of service for all, the need for a society with a different model of service. The current situation is immoral, unfair and impractical, because the existing situation divides the country in two: those who serve and those who don’t serve, those who are participants and those who aren’t, those whose are valued more and those who are valued less.”


Lapid continued, „I don’t trust Kadima, the Labor party, the Likud or Yisrael Beitenu to do the work for us, the public that serves in the military and pays taxes. I don’t trust them, because they have proven in the past that they can’t be trusted. The new model we are proposing is detailed, but the main principle is simple: Everyone must serve.”


According to Lapid’s plan, the first stage lasting five years will be devoted to upgrading the Civil Service Administration and preparing the army for a new model. During those five years, the Tal Law will be abolished and every ultra-Orthodox 18-year-old will get an automatic exemption from the army and be able to join the workforce. And the end of those five years, every 18-year-old Israeli, whether ultra-Orthodox, secular or religiously observant – will have to show up at a recruiting station.


Lapid said the army would have first dibs on recruits. „If the army wishes to draft someone, that person will enlist in the army. If the army doesn’t need that person, or the army believes that person’s lifestyle doesn’t allow him to serve, he will go to civil service.”


Lapid then addressed the ultra-Orthodox public directly and said, „I want to tell them, don’t believe anyone who says we hate you. We don’t hate you. Jews should not hate one another. We simply can’t bear the burden any longer.”


Lapid’s comments drew harsh criticism from Shas leader Eli Yishai, whose office released a statement on Tuesday, saying, „Mr. Lapid, we don’t hate you, but the public can no longer bear your hypocritical word games. If only you would study the subject and dig a little deeper, you would see that students of Judaism don’t get special stipends, and that an absolute majority of the religious Zionist public has served in the army in combat units and elite commando units while you ambushed old newspapers in the rough terrain of [army newspaper] Bamahane. Try studying seriously for once without making shady academic deals.”


Labor party officials also attacked Lapid’s plan. „The framework that Lapid is proposing to replace the Tal Law is not service for all, but rather exemptions for all,” said MK Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog. „It directly contradicts the principles outlined by the High Court of Justice, it is not equal and will not lead to integration.”


The Israeli Forum for the Promotion of an Equal Share in the Burden also attacked Lapid, calling his plan „nothing more than deception” because the five-year exemption does not apply to other populations in Israeli society that are subject to the country’s Defense Service Law. „We will by no means agree to a situation in which [people] try to score political points on the backs of those who serve,” the forum said in a statement.


Meanwhile, attorney Yossi Pe’er, who chairs a political organization also called „Yesh Atid” (which has tried to contend with the Labor party in the past) is demanding that Lapid pay him NIS 1 million for use of his party’s name. Pe’er even approached the party registrar to disqualify the name of Lapid’s new party.

Israel Hayom