|MK Moshe Gafni - New Head of Knesset Finance Committee?|
Following the disastrous earthquake in Nepal, Israel was among the first countries to send assistance. Israel has sent more than 250 doctors and rescue personnel to find and assist the victims of the earthquake in Nepal and to treat the wounded. This is one of the largest contingents in the world. This is Israel at its finest, acting as a "light among nations."
There has also been a great deal of military activity in the Golan Heights and South Lebanon areas. Some of the attacks on Hezbollah missile shipments have been denied by the Israeli Defence Forces. Nevertheless, the ongoing hostilities in Syria and Lebanon are constantly threatening to spill over into a broader military conflagration involving Israel. This is the ongoing existential reality that Israel faces.
While these life and death events are taking place, Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to finalize a coalition agreement with his various intended coalition partners so that he can put a formal government into place by May 7, 2015, the deadline that has been provided by the Israeli president in accordance with Israeli election laws.
YNet News reported today that the Likud party has reached deals with two parties so far - United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party. Negotiations continue with the other proposed coalition partners. For supporters of religious pluralism in Israel, the news is devastating, though predictable.
UTJ is an ultra-religious party that won 6 seats in the recent elections (out of the 120 seats in the Knesset). In its negotiations with the Likud party, it apparently put forward some 70 demands. YNet news reported today that Likud had agreed to many of these demands. The essence of this deal is that the various changes that were made at the behest of Yesh Atid and its leader Yair Lapid in the previous government will all be rolled back.
It will now be highly unlikely (and certainly not compulsory) that the Ultra-Religious (Haredim) will be required to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. Certainly there will be no criminal sanctions for refusing to serve.
Changes that were being made to liberalize Israel's conversion laws will be repealed.
The cuts that had been made to the budget for Yeshivas will be reversed as will the plan for Haredim to study secular subjects in school.
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni will be the Chair of the Knesset's powerful Finance Committee. UTJ will have a veto over any matter that involve "religion and the state." The list goes on and on - but I am only mentioning some of the "highlights."
Overall, these are far reaching changes that will restore tighter religious control over many areas of Israeli society (weddings, funerals, conversions etc.,) to the Ultra-Religious. For those who were hoping to see a further liberalization of laws in religion-state areas (that we had only begun to see under the previous government), they will be sorely disappointed by this deal.
It is particularly upsetting to see that Prime Minister Netanyahu is so readily willing to turn over so much power to anti-Zionist, ultra-religious leaders all in the name of keeping himself and his party in power. The State of Israel and the majority of its population would surely be much better served with a broader coalition that would be strong enough to limit the concessions to the ultra-religious parties.
For Lapid supporters, perhaps this will ultimately work out well. Perhaps Israelis will feel the impact of this type of ultra-religious bolstered government and will reconsider their positions in the next elections. Perhaps, it will remind them why they voted for change in the previous election. If not, Israel may wind up with a range of new, even more far reaching religious legislation that will move Israel further along the path towards becoming a religious state.