Israel’s coalition breaks on issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox
For background see Plan to make military service truly universal pushes Israel into crisis
In dramatic faction meeting, Kadima chairman Mofaz says ‘It is with great regret that I say there is no choice but to decide to pull out of the government’. Twenty-four MKs vote in favor of step, 3 oppose
Attila Somfalvi, Ynet news
July 17, 2012
End of Kadima-Likud partnership: Members of the Kadima faction voted to quit the coalition on Tuesday. Twenty-four MKs voted in favor of the proposal and three voted against it after party chairman Shaul Mofaz announced his intention to leave the government. The dissenting MKs are Avi Dichter, Otniel Schneller and Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich.
Speaking at a faction meeting in Petah Tikva Mofaz said, “It is with deep regret that I say that there is no choice but to decide to leave the government.” Following the vote, Mofaz sent his resignation letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It wasn’t easy to enter it,” Mofaz said earlier. “I paid a personal political price but this issue is fundamental, and there is no choice but to leave the coalition. Every concession will harm Kadima’s image.”
The Kadima faction convened for a dramatic meeting hours after announcing that negotiations with the Likud over an alternative to the Tal Law had failed.
Addressing the crisis with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud, Mofaz said: “I insisted that the (Plesner) committee complete its task.
“The break down occurred with the dissolution of the committee by the prime minister. I told the prime minister that if he fails to accept the Plesner principles, I was out and then the Likud faction accepted my position.”
Mofaz stressed that he was unwilling to compromise on the conscription matter or the enlistment age. He said that Kadima was willing to allow yeshiva students to study until the age of 22 before enlisting. “The prime minister was not willing to go below 26 and I did not accept the offer.”
Coalition sources said that withdrawal from the coalition will threaten the government’s stability and may prompt early elections. Political sources added that in such a case, elections will be held in early 2013.
‘Bibi chose the draft dodgers’
After the vote, Mofaz convened a press conference where he declared that “Netanyahu has chosen the draft dodgers.”
Addressing soldiers and service applicants he said, “We fought for you. I have done everything and shall continue to do everything for you in order to achieve a new social treaty for equal distribution of the burden. I was ready to make compromises but we also had some red lines.”
Mofaz further added, “I turned every stone, I didn’t rush to quit even when the prime minister unilaterally dissolved the Plesner Committee and broke the coalition agreement.”
He added that Kadima will not take part in a “public hoax” or shy away from its commitment to the public. “History is not kind to those who could have done everything and willingly chose to do nothing,” he said in a jab to Netanyahu.
In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Mofaz stressed he did not seek to persecute the haredi public. “Out of narrow political interests you chose an alliance with the haredim over one with the Zionist majority,” he charged.
“It is with regret that I say that you have not the willingness, determination, courage nor leadership to fill your current duties. In your actions and failures you have chosen to flee the battle.”
Netanyahu wrote a letter in response to Mofaz’s resignation. “I regret your decision to squander an opportunity for a historic change,” he wrote. “I presented you with a proposal to achieve haredi and Arab draft at age 18 and I explained to you that the only way to implement this is gradually and without tearing up the Israeli society. I shall continue to work to bring a responsible solution,” he added.
Moran Azulay, Ron Notkin and Chen Zausmer contributed to this report
‘PM always favors haredim even at the price of mortgaging our national interest and joint future,’ Kadima member of Knesset tells Ynet
By Attila Somfalvi, Ynet news
July 18, 2012
MK Yohanan Plesner, who headed the defunct committee tasked with drafting a universal draft bill, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu always preferred the haredim over the national interest.
After the Kadima party voted in favor of withdrawing from the coalition, citing unbridgeable differences with the prime minister, Plesner told Ynet on Wednesday that “Netanyahu’s true colors has been exposed.”
“We revealed his true preferences. (Netanyahu) always favored the haredim even at the price of mortgaging our national interest and joint future,” he said.
Plesner added that “when his back was pushed against the wall, Netanyahu chose the haredim and not the State of Israel.”
The Kadima member of Knesset noted that there was a genuine opportunity to establish a national unity government that would address important issues in the Israeli society. “(Netanyahu) didn’t say he wasn’t serious. He gave us all signs that he was serious. I didn’t fall at his feet, but I believed that the opportunity must be seized.”
Plesner slammed Netanyahu for “spinning” the universal draft issue: “Netanyahu is a skilled communicator; he knows how to spin things around and throws sand in the eyes of the public. He creates an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty in order to instill disorder. We need to put everything back in order so that we can understand why he always surrenders to Shas.”
Asked what Kadima should do now that it is back in the opposition, Plesner noted that his party must provide an alternative to the government. “After realizing that Bibi surrenders to the haredi parties, and that he will not bring about a new civil order, or a political process, our responsibility is to join forces with the political center in order to provide an alternative.
“Israel cannot afford to see Netanyahu lead another term in office. One was enough. Another one can be disastrous for Israel’s economy,” he said.
Unity Government in Israel Disbanding Over Dispute on Draft
By Jodi Rudoren, NY Times
July 17, 2012
JERUSALEM — The broadest unity coalition Israel has seen in many years broke apart Tuesday evening, rent by irreconcilable differences over how to integrate ultra-Orthodox men and Arab citizens into the military and civilian service, a fundamental question for the future of the Jewish democracy.
After stunning the political establishment with a secret, late-night deal in May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the centrist Kadima Party, failed to achieve their top priority and agreed to part ways. While Mr. Netanyahu retains power with his original, narrower majority in Parliament, analysts said the split weakened both leaders and was likely to hasten elections.
The coalition had given Mr. Netanyahu a supermajority of 94 of the Parliament’s 120 members and a new nickname, “King of Israel,” and with that unprecedented authority to take on complex issues like the stalemated peace process with the Palestinians and the national responsibilities of Israel’s growing minorities. Instead, when it came to the draft and expanding settlements in the West Bank, he chose to solidify his alliance with right-wing and religious factions.“I don’t think there are any winners, except maybe the Orthodox parties — they’re off the hook for the foreseeable future,” said Yossi Verter, political correspondent for the newspaper Haaretz. “The losers are, of course, Netanyahu and Mofaz. When the leaders of the two big parties in Israel sit and decide to form a unity government and after 70 days it collapses, they don’t look like serious men. It’s like a joke.”
The surprise partnership between the prime minister and the former leader of the opposition had come a day after Mr. Netanyahu called for early elections because of cracks in his original coalition. The two men vowed to leverage the huge new majority to enact legislation ensuring that all citizens share the burden of military and civilian service, in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling invalidating a law that granted draft exemptions to thousands of yeshiva students.
The issue had broad resonance in a society increasingly torn between secular and religious Jews: some 20,000 people took to the Tel Aviv street this month to demand a broader draft and the ouster of politicians who opposed it.
But talks broke down over the details. Kadima set a goal of enlisting 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox within four years, with stiff financial penalties for dodgers. Under pressure from religious parties long aligned with his Likud faction, Mr. Netanyahu proffered a more incremental solution, which Mr. Mofaz rejected as a cop-out.
“I was prepared to make compromises but I also had my red lines which I would not cross,” Mr. Mofaz told reporters Tuesday night after Kadima’s Parliament members voted 25-3 to defect from the coalition. “No more lip service; it is time for actions.
“I look all those who serve and their families in the eye, and tell them with great honesty and integrity that we had fought for you,” he added. “It was not easy to join the government, and I had paid a public price for doing so, but leaving is the only choice.”
Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, released a statement regretting Mr. Mofaz’s “decision to give up on an opportunity to make a historic change.”
“The only way to implement this on the ground is gradually and without tearing Israeli society apart,” he said, “especially at a time when the State of Israel is facing many significant challenges.”
With Parliament scheduled to disband for a three-month recess next week, the lack of agreement on a new draft law leaves the issue in the hands of the Israeli Defense Force. An aide to the defense minister said Tuesday that recruitment of yeshiva students would begin in August, but hinted that it would move slowly.
The political question now is whether Mr. Netanyahu can keep control over the factions in the remaining 66-member coalition. The religious parties may be less eager to go to the polls now, with the draft question in the forefront after weeks of wrenching public debate. The wild-card remains Avigdor Lieberman, head of the conservative Yisrael Beiteinu Party, who has his own draft legislation scheduled for a Parliament vote Thursday.
“Now we have to see if there is a domino effect,” said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “It’s really now in the hands of Lieberman. Until we know what kind of deal was worked out between Lieberman and Netanyahu, we don’t know anything.”
The prime minister’s office declined to comment on whether it would call elections before the expiration of the current term in October, 2013, but many analysts said they expect the polling to be set for January or February.
With the economy strong and domestic terrorism all but disappeared, few doubt Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election, even if the draft failure has hurt him; now, it seems clear he will run from the right, and less likely that he would take steps on settlements or the broader Palestinian conflict that might alienate conservative and religious voters.
Far less clear is what will become of Kadima, a center-left party that broke away from the Likud in 2005 and has lost traction in recent months.
Tzipi Livni had been replaced by Mr. Mofaz as Kadima’s leader shortly before it teamed up with Likud in May, and some believe she will now make a comeback. Others are urging Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister acquitted last week in two key corruption cases, to retake the reins. Many believe Kadima will disintegrate, with right-leaning members rejoining Likud and others forming a new center-left movement.
Haim Ramon, a former Kadima Parliament member who has promised to birth a new party, on Tuesday said Kadima “is now a party that has lost its right to exist.” because it had joined a conservative government only to fail to deliver on its promises.
Robert Ibayev, one of several current Kadima lawmakers who have been considering splitting from the party, told Israel radio that “what happened today is shameful,” and described Mr. Mofaz’s leadership as “a failure.”
Outside Kadima, politicians were quick to crow.
“Just as water and oil do not mix, it is about time that the relationship between the Likud and the spineless party that is called Kadima come to an end,” Danny Danon, the only Likud lawmaker who voted against the coalition deal, said in a statement. “Kadima is an empty shell with no ideological core and will soon disappear from the Israeli political landscape.”
Isaac Herzog, chairman of Parliament’s Labor Party faction, said the short-lived partnership would hurt both Likud and Kadima.
“We are very sorry that Mofaz and Kadima have dragged the Israeli people for months with a futile effort on all fronts,” he said. “Right now the only real option and the right thing to do is for Netanyahu to move to elections instantaneously without further delay.”
Gabby Sobelman and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting, and Rick Gladstone from New York.