A photo of Rabbi Elisha Levi, an ultra-Orthodox who fought in the Six Day War, is shown in a Yisrael Beytenu campaign ad calling on ultra-Orthodox to enlist. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Granddaughter of Rabbi Elisha Levi outraged to see a photo of him illustrating Yisrael Beytenu campaign spot; ultra-Orthodox MK blasts ‘incitement’
Avigdor Liberman was forced Friday to remove a campaign ad by his Yisrael Beytenu party calling on ultra-Orthodox Israelis to enlist to the military, after coming under fire for including footage of a rabbi who had fought in the Six Day War in 1967.
Yisrael Beytenu has been focusing its campaign on criticizing the ultra-Orthodox community and presenting his party as right-wing and secular, after a disagreement over a law regulating the drafting of seminary students into the IDF prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a coalition in the wake of the April elections. This led to another round of Israeli elections scheduled for September 17.
In the campaign spot published Friday morning, various photos of ultra-Orthodox men are seen with slogans such as: “We’re not demanding that you enlist to [elite commando unit] Sayeret Matkal, only that you enlist,” and “We’re not demanding that you work extra hours, only that you work.”
However, Facebook user Michaela Levi was outraged when she recognized one of the people in the clip as her grandfather Rabbi Elisha Levi, who served in the IDF in the 1960s and took part in the Six Day War against invading Arab armies.
“How ugly can this election cycle be?” she asked in a post. “This morning I saw the video Avigdor Liberman published. Probably without thinking too much about the people behind the photos, he allowed himself to drag my grandfather’s name through the mud… How do you allow yourselves to generalize like this?!
“My grandfather, who served and fought in the Six Day War, worked all his life in education and dedicated every free moment he had to volunteer work, and thousands of graduates of kindergartens and schools around Jerusalem can testify to that,” Levi added.
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JERUSALEM (AP) — The trigger for Israel’s unprecedented repeat election touches upon one of the major fault lines in Israeli society — the role of the growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in modern life.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospective government collapsed last week over the issue of military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, a source of longtime resentment among the secular majority of Jewish Israelis who are required to serve.
The conflict over the draft law is just one of several deep disagreements over the role of religion in Israeli society. While the ultra-Orthodox parties wield significant political influence, experts say their cloistered communities are being left behind by modern society, with long-lasting negative consequences for the future of the country.
After appearing to win April 9 elections, Netanyahu was blocked from forming a governing coalition by his political ally turned rival Avigdor Lieberman, who insisted on passing legislation that would require young ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted into the military like everyone else.
Not only did Lieberman’s nationalist, yet secular, Yisrael Beiteinu party deny Netanyahu the chance to form his fifth government, it also all but guaranteed the issue will feature prominently in the upcoming campaign.
“I have nothing against the ultra-Orthodox community, and I think they should integrate,” Lieberman said after the new vote was called. However, he added: “You can’t have a government that is dictated to by one group alone.”
Lieberman has seen his core constituency of aging immigrants from the former Soviet Union shrink and has clearly identified secular rights as a winning campaign strategy. Though he has cut deals with the ultra-Orthodox in the past, he seems poised to run on a ticket that will oppose what he calls the “complete surrender of (Netanyahu’s) Likud to the ultra-Orthodox.”
While the Israeli political spectrum is often defined over where politicians stand on matters of Palestinian statehood, the internal divide is just as profound on matters of religion, and in particular the ultra-Orthodox parties’ status as political kingmakers in Israel’s fragmented parliamentary system.
The ultra-Orthodox have leveraged their clout over the decades to maintain a segregated lifestyle. They run a separate network of schools, raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts and enforce a public status quo — such as preventing most commerce and public transportation on the Sabbath — that has enraged the secular majority. The ultra-Orthodox also wield a monopoly over matters of marriage, burials and conversions.
But in a country where Jewish males must typically serve three years in the army, the sweeping military draft exemptions have done the most to feed the visceral culture war.
“Giving one’s life for one’s country is the ultimate sacrifice. It is unconscionable that there are free-riders in Israel who have the gall to treat the rest of us as lower caste mercenaries to ensure their livelihood,” said Dan Ben-David, a Tel Aviv University economist and president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, who has researched trends in the community.
He said the draft is “symptomatic” of something much bigger. “They ostensibly prefer not to enter modern society, but have no compunction about claiming its fruits, from modern health care through modern infrastructure to the extensive subsidization of their lifestyle,” he said.
The draft exemptions go back to Israel’s establishment in 1948, when the government allowed several hundred gifted students to pursue religious studies.
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The enlistment of these few hundred more Haredi recruits each year is not likely to have a significant effect on the military’s manpower shortages, nor is it trumpeted by IDF officials as a potential game-changer on this front, especially as ultra-Orthodox servicemen require on average more investment per soldier by the IDF due to their community’s relatively low socioeconomic position.
There are, of course, other reasons for encouraging greater Haredi enlistment in the military beyond simple manpower numbers.
Israel remains one of the few countries around the world with near universal conscription, and the IDF is described as a “people’s army,” one that is supposed to reflect the diverse nature of Israeli society.
This is a “supreme value that will continue to serve as the basis for the IDF’s activities and to direct it,” the Defense Ministry wrote in its recommendations last year.
The military can also serve as an important economic and social springboard, offering people skills, qualifications and experiences that would be otherwise difficult or expensive to obtain — especially for a comparatively poor and economically underperforming community like Israel’s ultra-Orthodox.
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The New York Times
JERUSALEM — With just two days left before the deadline for forming a government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was struggling Monday to sign up coalition partners, thrusting the country into a political crisis and raising the possibility that it could be forced to hold a new election.
The drama stemmed from a battle of wills between two political forces that Mr. Netanyahu needs to form a right-wing coalition: the ultra-Orthodox religious parties that won 16 parliamentary seats in the April 9 election, and Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won five seats and whose constituents are mostly secular, Russian-speaking Israelis.
Having long sparred over issues of religion and state, the sides are now wrestling over legislation to replace a military draft law that exempted ultra-Orthodox men. Mr. Lieberman supports a law that sets modest quotas for enlisting them, which the religious parties oppose.
A new law must be passed by late July, according to a deadline imposed by Israel’s Supreme Court.
Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, which won 35 seats, needs the ultra-Orthodox parties, Yisrael Beiteinu and two other parties to assemble a 61-seat majority.
Analysts said it was entirely possible that the parties could resolve their differences, allowing Mr. Netanyahu to announce a new government by midnight Wednesday, which would not be the first time Israeli coalition negotiations have gone to the wire.
But the alternative threatened to catapult Israel into uncharted political terrain: Israel has never had to hold a new national ballot because of a failure to form a government after an election.
“Right now it looks as if we are at a deadlock because everybody has climbed to the top of a tree and nobody’s ready to get down, especially not Lieberman,” said Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Putting the chances of a new election at 50-50, he added, “Definitely there is a possibility that we will have early elections even before the government was formed.”
On Sunday, Likud submitted a motion to disperse the newly sworn-in Parliament, paving the way for new elections. While questions arose over the legality of an interim government taking such action, the move seemed like a canny negotiating tactic in a game of political chicken.
By Monday, one newspaper, Maariv, had already published a poll asking, “If elections were held today, who would you vote for?”
On Monday evening, the motion passed a preliminary vote in Parliament; possible dates were being bandied about for a new election in about three months.
Even as his party moved toward a new election, Mr. Netanyahu insisted he didn’t want one.
“It is still possible to come to our senses,” he said in a televised address Monday evening. “I promise that I will continue to work in every possible way during the time that is still left in order to form the government. I call upon Avigdor Lieberman to reconsider.”
Mr. Netanyahu also quoted a tweet posted on Monday by President Trump endorsing Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts, which many critics described as an improper intervention in Israel’s domestic politics. Mr. Trump, calling Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname, Bibi, wrote: “Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever.”
Calling a new election would pre-empt another possibility, distasteful to Mr. Netanyahu, that Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, could offer someone else the chance to form a government.
The opposition is led by Blue and White, a new centrist party whose main appeal was that it was not led by Mr. Netanyahu, who has already served 13 years as prime minister and is facing indictment on corruption charges.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is on track to become Israel’s longest serving prime minister this summer, is also the first to face possible criminal charges while in office. In February, the attorney general announced plans to indict him in three cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The attorney general has set a hearing for October where Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyers can plead his case before a final decision is made.
The Likud nevertheless won five more seats than last time, which Mr. Netanyahu took as a vote of confidence, and together with the right-wing and religious parties that made up his last coalition, seemed poised to form a government with a majority of 65 seats.
He also appeared set to take on another challenge — promoting legislation that would guarantee him immunity from prosecution while in office. Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday night in a protest against such a move.
Instead, Mr. Netanyahu has found himself at the mercy of smaller parties engaged in a power struggle over the military draft law, which critics said was in any case a mild compromise unlikely to significantly change the status quo.
There is a long history of bad blood between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman, a blunt, tough-talking politician who resigned as defense minister in Mr. Netanyahu’s last government and was eyeing returning to the post.
Some commentators suggested that Mr. Lieberman was driven by a desire for revenge against his old nemesis, or was counting on the prospect that Mr. Netanyahu could not survive an indictment and was setting himself up as an alternative.
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Demonstrators gather at major intersection to rally against draft-dodger’s arrest; footage shows IDF soldier aiming rifle at protesters who called him a ‘Nazi’
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocked traffic and disrupted the light rail service for several hours Thursday in protest of the arrest of an army draft-dodger from a religious seminary in Jerusalem.
Protesters sat in the street and on the rail tracks at a junction of Jaffa Road, near the main traffic entrance to the city, chanting “We will die and not be drafted.”
Some of the protesters reportedly called police “Nazis.”
Police said 30 people were arrested during the demonstration at the intersection of the Jaffa and Sarei Yisrael streets, near the capital’s Central Bus Station.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox for draft-dodging on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
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