Yair Lapid on Wednesday announced that his centrist Yesh Atid party won’t join a government that doesn’t commit to passing a universal draft law. The implication was that he would join a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu if such a union left out the ultra-Orthodox parties.
In a Tel Aviv press conference, Lapid criticized the right-wing Jewish Home party’s chairman, Naftali Bennett, for “deceiving” the Israeli public.
Bennett, he claimed, was promising to find a solution to the issue of Haredi non-enlistment to the IDF while at the same time reassuring ultra-Orthodox voters that they would be exempt from military service.
“I want to warn voters of disingenuous solutions in the style of Naftali Bennett, who makes loud pronouncements to the secular community about an ‘equal share of the burden’ and then runs and whispers in the ears of Haredi rabbis not to worry — he only means it for those who don’t study Torah,” he said.
Lapid, a political newcomer — he’s a former TV anchor and the son of Joseph “Tommy” Lapid, the late firebrand leader of the now-defunct secularist Shinui party — claimed Bennett’s draft plan would bring about the destruction of Israeli society.
“Mr. Bennet,” he said, “I read your proposal with great seriousness. The only way to interpret it is the perpetuation of the draft deferment law, which destroys Israeli society from within.”
Lapid stressed that Yesh Atid’s role after the elections would be to coerce Netanyahu to resolve the issue.
“Netanyahu had a historic opportunity to enlist the Haredim and to integrate them into the work force, to make a real change in Israeli society, and at the last moment he panicked and ran,” Lapid said. “Now we know that he prefers to do nothing, that his hand must be forced — that is the role of Yesh Atid.”
Last February, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Tal Law, which granted sweeping exemptions from military or national service to ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Following the ruling, Netanyahu announced that the Knesset would draft a revised, more equitable law within months.
But in July, Netanyahu disbanded the committee that was seeking to draft a resolution to the issue, after some right-wing legislators resigned from the panel, citing its failure to institute universal enlistment for Arab citizens as well as ultra-Orthodox.
Lapid called on Labor Party chair Shelly Yachimovich to join him in his attempt to bring the issue of the draft to the forefront of political discourse.
“Stop avoiding the issue and stop saying it isn’t important,” he said, in a direct appeal to Yachimovich. “Is there anything more important than equality and the question of how Israeli society will look?”
Lapid brushed aside the notion that his calls for a universal draft were indicative of an anti-Haredi bias.
“No one should tell me this is an anti-Orthodox statement; this is not an anti-Orthodox statement,” he said. “I’m not asking them to do anything I do not ask of my children or myself.”