Lapid criticism of ultra-Orthodox parties draws ire in Blue and White

‘We need the Haredim with us,’ says senior source in the centrist party after Yesh Atid leader slams Haredi draft law, stipends

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Blue and White's Yair Lapid on March 31, 2019 (Saria Diamant/Blue and White).
Blue and White's Yair Lapid on March 31, 2019 (Saria Diamant/Blue and White).

Top officials in the Blue and White party are expressing sharp — even unprecedented — criticism of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid over the latter’s attacks in recent days on the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Members of Blue and White’s Knesset faction, made up of Israel Resilience and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, warn that Lapid’s comments are causing the party political damage by burning its bridges to the Haredi factions, and thus ensuring it will not be able to form a ruling coalition in the future.

“I don’t know what’s happening to Lapid,” one senior Blue and White MK — not a member of Yesh Atid — told Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew site. “After all, we want to be the ruling party someday. We need the Haredim with us. We’ve begun to build a channel of communication with them during the campaign. If we’d gotten the president’s mandate to form a government, we would have given them anything they wanted, and Lapid knows that,” the lawmaker added.

“Now Lapid is starting fights and pushing them away from us. Why?”

Leaders of the Blue and White party, left to right, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon at a press conference at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019, a day after the elections. (Flash90)

The comments follow a string of statements by Lapid in recent days that have raised hackles among the ultra-Orthodox factions.

After Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef wrote in a new book that Reform synagogues were idolatrous and thus it was forbidden for observant Jews to enter them, Lapid demanded in a tweet that “the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] call him to order.

“But of course he won’t do that,” Lapid added, “because he needs Shas to [give him] immunity from prison.”

Lapid has also attacked the latest version of the ultra-Orthodox draft bill amid reports that a new compromise was being hammered out in coalition talks between the Haredi factions and Likud.

Then-finance minister Yair Lapid, left, talks to Shas chairman Aryeh Deri at the Knesset in March 2013. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Lapid supported the law at its first reading in the last Knesset, but later claimed that political forces were scheming to turn the new law, which would up enlistment to military and national service in the Haredi community, into a financial windfall for Haredi institutions.

“The Finance Ministry is planning financial compensation for the Haredim. This is a cash-drafting law. Draft-dodgers will get paid,” he charged during a debate in the last Knesset.

Analysts at the time believed Lapid was looking for a way to avoid helping Netanyahu pass a law he himself had supported.

Lapid has now renewed his attacks on the draft law. “If we don’t set draft targets,” he told Israel Radio recently, “then this is not a law, but a joke. Netanyahu has been selling out [the issue of] the IDF draft for years now, so that [United Torah Judaism head Yaakov] Litzman and [Shas leader Aryeh] Deri keep him out of prison. Now they’re trying to get [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman to sell out on everything he has sworn to uphold or promised.”

Avigdor Liberman is hosted by UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman at a celebration on June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

But the Haredi parties were most angered by Lapid’s repeated comparisons between the stipends granted to ultra-Orthodox seminary students and those given to the elderly.

“If your name is Moshe and you’re an 80-year-old grandfather who fought in all of Israel’s wars, you’ll receive a [monthly] stipend of NIS 2,432 [$681],” Lapid said recently. “But if your name is Moishe and you’re a 19-year-old yeshiva student dodging the IDF draft, you’ll get NIS 8,000 [$2,240] from the state.”

Haredi politicians and pundits have claimed Lapid’s figures were untrue, and that Lapid was “evil and cruel,” and engaging in incitement against the Haredi community as a whole.

The Haredi anger has been heard in Blue and White’s ranks, where officials are now blasting Lapid’s anti-ultra-Orthodox campaign.

During the election campaign, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz said he would grant the ultra-Orthodox an open page, where he would fill a third with his demands and leave the other two-thirds for them to fill in theirs — and Lapid did not comment.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attends a conference of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel party in the coastal city of Netanya on January 30, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Blue and White officials had hoped that the Yesh Atid wing of their alliance would be able to stomach an agreement with the ultra-Orthodox parties that might enable them to piece together a ruling coalition in which Lapid would serve as foreign minister without a say on domestic policies. Of course, that scenario never occurred.

“Now everything is bursting out in the open, and we don’t understand why,” a Blue and White source said. “The draft law hasn’t reached its second reading and he’s already attacking. What’s up with him? We may have an opportunity here for an alliance with the Haredim, without whom we won’t go far, and the last elections proved that.”

Is this the first tear in the fabric of Blue and White between its Israel Resilience faction led by Gantz and Lapid’s Yesh Atid? It may well be.

Lapid declined to respond, saying he does not comment on anonymous statements.

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