Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party may have won reelection, but they have to put together a new ruling coalition. In order to do so, they’ve had to make promises to ultra-Orthodox Haredi parties to roll back laws that ended some of the special privileges for the Haredi.
A coalition agreement signed last week between the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction promises to dismantle a raft of legislation enacted in the last two years that chipped away at several longstanding entitlements enjoyed by the haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. Shas, the Sephardic haredi party, signed its own coalition agreement with Likud this week that will cement the power of religious parties in the next government.
Led by the Yesh Atid party, the last government passed laws to include haredim in Israel’s mandatory military draft and encourage the teaching of math and English in government-funded haredi schools. The government, which did not include the haredi parties, also allowed dozens of municipal Orthodox rabbis to perform conversions, vastly increasing the number of conversion courts from the four controlled by the haredim. Other laws cut subsidies to haredi yeshivas and large families, many of whom are haredi.
The Likud-UTJ agreement promises to repeal the conversion decision, increase subsidies to yeshivas and large families, and relieve haredi schools of the obligation to teach secular subjects. The agreement also gives the incoming defense minister sole authority to decide whether to implement the draft law, effectively allowing him to choose not to enforce it. A UTJ lawmaker will head the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, while Shas will control the Religious Services Ministry, which handles most religion-state policies.
“In the last Knesset, people tried to blur Judaism and to strengthen democracy at Judaism’s expense,” said Yair Eiserman, a spokesman for UTJ lawmaker Uri Maklev. “We have an opportunity in the present government to strengthen Israel’s definition as a Jewish state.”
Haredi Israelis are celebrating the agreements as a return to a comfortable status quo, but advocates for religious pluralism are struggling to figure out how to advance their cause, which has significant public backing. A September poll by the religious pluralism advocacy NGO Hiddush found that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis back legalizing civil marriage and 64 percent support recognizing Conservative and Reform conversions. A 2011 Hiddush poll found that 87 percent of Jewish Israelis supported the drafting of haredim into the Israel Defense Forces.
The Haredis are the ones who are behind nearly attempts to oppress and discriminate against women in innumerable ways, and behind the oppression of gay people as well. They are the far-far-right of Israeli society the way Christian Reconstructionists are the same in America. The difference is that in Israel they have enough influence to keep getting government funding and a raft of special privileges that exempt them from the laws that everyone else must follow.