Israel’s government of change, a disparate unity coalition none expected to last a full term, has collapsed. According to the nation’s religious newspapers, it was divine intervention that brought down Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
“The Holy One, blessed be He, has had mercy on the people of Israel,” stated a prominent rabbi in a newspaper affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish political party Shas.
In a similar publication connected to the other major Haredi political party, United Torah Judaism, a rabbi declared that the government’s fall was “thanks to Torah. [This government tried] to harm spirituality, but they did not succeed!”
The Bennett-Lapid government was notable for a number of reasons, not least of which being that it was one of the few in recent memory that did not include ultra-Orthodox representation.
More than that, it advanced several initiatives to break the ultra-Orthodox hold on religious policy and services in Israel.
A recent tax reform that based tax breaks on both parents being employed was also seen as a slap in the face of the ultra-Orthodox, amongst whom men typically don’t work.
In the eyes of these communities, for these reasons and others, the outgoing government was considered an enemy of Judaism.
A number of the changes the government tried to make vis-a-vis the Orthodox are consensus issues, but were long placed on the back burner by success governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who preferred to compromise with the rabbis to maintain stability.
With new elections now scheduled for October, the ultra-Orthodox are no doubt anticipating a return to that status quo.
Failure of biblical proportions?
In an interview with the religious outlet Kikar Hashabat, Amichai Chikli, a lawmaker from Bennett’s own Yamina party, called the prime minister’s short tenure a “failure of biblical proportions.”
While Netanyahu is often accused of giving in to demands and even extortion by the ultra-Orthodox, Chikli charged Bennett with doing the same in regards to the Arab elements that his coalition leaned upon.
He also took Bennett to task for trying to smooth over every difficulty that arose, insisting that “trying to get along with everyone is the opposite of leadership, because leadership has decisive moments that require decisiveness.”
Rumors are already swirling that Bennett will either leave political life or possibly join Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party.
Yamina is projected to do rather poorly at the polls in October, but could get a slight bump with the departure of Bennett, who many religious right-wing voters accuse of betraying their trust by forming a coalition with leftists and Islamists.
Surveys show Netanyahu’s Likud strengthening, but still short of a majority in Knesset. And already the anti-Netanyahu voices are ramping back up in an effort to prevent him from returning to power.
Should the upcoming election result in the same kind of political deadlock as the previous four, the aforementioned ultra-Orthodox parties have signaled that this time they won’t maintain absolute loyalty to Bibi.
A year out of power has had an impact on the ultra-Orthodox parties, and if Netanyahu can’t form the next government, a senior Haredi lawmaker on Tuesday said his party is ready to support current Defense Minister Benny Gantz as prime minister.
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