Zionist Union Party leader Isaac Herzog called it "the weakest, most extortionist, most narrow government in Israeli history." Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called the coalition agreement "a liquidation sale." Hard to argue with these characterizations.
By all accounts, the concessions given up by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the various coalition partners are excessive and wide-ranging. The coalition agreement rewards the ultra-religious parties with a veritable reversal of a full range of changes that had been instituted at Lapid's behest in the previous mandate. I have listed them already in previous blogs. But "highlights" include:
- Reversing the requirement that the ultra-religious be conscripted to the army, like other Israelis;
- Reversing the requirement that state funded religious schools teach math and science and other secular subjects;
- Reversing the cuts to yeshivas and restoring all funding to all ultra-religious programs to pre-2012 levels;
- Providing the ultra-religious with an effective "veto" over any religion-state issues;
- Installing UTJ Knesset members in some of the most important Knesset roles including Chair of the Knesset Finance Committee;
- Turning over all key Education ministry positions to the religious parties, including responsibility for secular education.
The "bright light" in the new government was supposed to be Moshe Kahlon, who had been elected to focus on economic issues and help make the country more liveable for the Israeli middle class. But his opening act in this capacity has been the delivery of a stamp of approval to a governmental arrangement that will take billions of sheqels and pour it into parochial religious programs. I would have to think that if another election were held today, Kahlon would lose at least half of his seats as a result of this display of a complete lack of judgment.
Perhaps surprisingly, Avigdor Lieberman has kept his rightist "Yisrael Beitenu" out of this unholy coalition. That may well herald an early dissolution of what is bound to be a very unpopular government.
One would have to think that many Kahlon and Likud supporters will be demanding answers to why their parties felt the need to deliver so many concessions to the ultra-religious to form this government. I have yet to hear any convincing answers, certainly not from Kahlon.
The big winners are bound to be Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman and the Zionist Union party, all of whom will sit in opposition. Of the three, it is really only Lapid and Lieberman who Israelis could count on to stand up to ultra-religious demands. The Israeli Labour party, in the past, has made equally unpalatable concessions to the ultra-orthodox and had signaled a willingness to do so once again if that would have put them in power. Only Lapid truly stood up to these demands in the previous Knesset and Lieberman has taken a stand this time around.
The good news, if there is any at this time, is that this government is not likely to last. Netanyahu's coalition building decisions may well mean that his days as Israel's Prime Minister are limited. There is bound to be a backlash as the government begins to implement this Haredi agenda.
Certainly Conservative and Reform rabbis and their congregations, in Israel and abroad, are likely to begin reciting the appropriate prayer for the speedy demise of this governing coalition and its replacement with one that is more representative, more pluralistic, more transparent and more committed to the rule of law (secular law, that is). And that is not to mention anything about the prospect of peace negotiations, which are not even likely to make it to the back burner with this governmental configuration.
Looking forward to the next election already....