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Hebrew media review

Netanyahu choo-choo chooses the ultra-Orthodox

A deal with Haredi factions to ostensibly protect Shabbat does little other than gird the coalition for a high-speed hijacking by Yair Lapid, pundits say

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) congratulates then-incoming Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) congratulates then-incoming Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

The coalition crisis over railway work on Shabbat has seemingly ended even before it really left the station, but it pushed the political system enough off the rails to continue to dominate the news agenda in Monday morning’s papers, in part thanks to some evocative pictures of a (mostly) unrelated protest by ultra-Orthodox blocking Jerusalem’s entrance to protest against the army draft.

Most of the focus on the news side of the papers is on the new laws that will clamp down on some activities during the Jewish day of rest, as a salve to the ultra-Orthodox meant to get them to stay in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, with pundits reading the day’s frantic efforts to reach an agreement as a sign that both sides are weak.

“Laws limiting the opening of convenience stores will be advanced, but soccer games will go on as normal. After quitting, [Health Minister Yaakov] Litzman is expected to return as a deputy minister,” Haaretz reports on the compromise agreement.

Yet Yedioth runs its news story under the headline “Closing Shabbat,” which is army lingo for being stuck staying on base and not getting to go home for the weekend. It notes that Tel Aviv will not fall under the new law, which will give the interior minister — a post normally held by the ultra-Orthodox — control over whether stores can stay open on the holy day.

Yet the opening or closing of stores and soccer games on Shabbat are seen as small potatoes compared to what it all means for the coalition.

Yedioth notes that Netanyahu’s Likud and the ultra-Orthodox were able to come together since they both had the same goal, which has nothing to do with preserving the sanctity of Shabbat: stopping Yesh Atid from gaining power. The paper quotes a Likud source noting that “if we compromised on matters of state and religion we would crash in the polls,” though that seems exactly what it did and exactly what has happened.

Columnist Yoaz Hendel goes even further, writing that this is not the way people who actually want to discuss the role of Shabbat in Israel would act and comparing the hubbub to a Talmudic dispute over nothing where the result doesn’t really matter.

“Seinfeld for the religious,” he writes. “A crisis over nothing, neither the sanctity of Shabbat nor the sanctity of the coalition.”

Israel Hayom is the only paper to bury the news, running it only after a seven-page spread marking (almost) 70 years since November 29, 1947, when the UN voted to partition Palestine.

The paper’s downplaying of the issue includes writing that “the biggest achievement” has nothing to do with Shabbat, but rather a deal to advance a law that overrides a High Court ruling that a deputy minister with the standing of the minister (which Litzman had previously insisted on holding for ideological reasons) is no minister at all. So now Litzman can go back to being a deputy.

Columnist Moti Tochfeld calls whatever the ultra-Orthodox wrung out of Netanyahu “thin,” and ascribes the “prime minister’s Herculean efforts to get them a deal” to the fact that neither side wants elections, with their fates now tied to each other.

“They will not give up on each other, not the Haredim on Netanyahu and not him on them,” Tochfeld writes, “In the last term, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett managed to drive a wedge between them and the ultra-Orthodox were left out. One time was enough for them to understand that without the other, they are just half a man.”

As for Litzman’s resignation, the paper ascribes to “rumors” reports that Litzman quit after being ordered to by the head of the Gur Hasidic sect, Admor Yaakov Aryeh Adler, though Yedioth reports it as plain fact.

Haaretz’s Aaron Liebowitz also reports it as fact, and gives a bit of background to why Adler commands such power.

“The power of the Gur community lies in the combination of their size and their organizational abilities, said a member of the sect,” he writes, quoting the source as saying that “It bases itself on total obedience to the rebbe without questions or reservations. The present admor is very involved and controlling.”

In Yedioth, columnist Shlomo Pyotrovsky slams Litzman for his half measure of quitting the government but not the coalition, seemingly caring more about looking like he is responsible for the violating of the Shabbat than the fact that Shabbat is being violated.

“He decided to save himself from responsibility over the breaking of Shabbat, even at the cost of losing influence over being able to lessen the breaking of Shabbat,” he writes. “This is nothing new, it’s a tactic that the Ashkenazi-Haredi world has used since the 1970s, when they first fully joined a governing coalition. The one who broke the blockade was the spiritual head of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who understood that influence comes with responsibility, and whoever runs away from responsibility will seriously lower their ability to influence.”

Litzman isn’t the only one who emerges with cholent on his face. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter accuses Netanyahu of engineering the crisis in order to try and call new elections and escape prosecution, until everyone realized poll numbers showed they would not be in the next coalition.

“Likud’s dive, which corresponds to the turbid flood of aggressive legislative initiatives from the house of David Amsalem and David Bitan, continues in light of the ultra-Orthodox obsession with imposing a medieval lifestyle on Israel,” he writes. “But it’s not just that. The frenzy of Amsalem and Bitan, the attack on President Reuven Rivlin, the ugly booting out of Benny Begin from the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, the monumental interview by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely — all these were reflected in the latest poll. It was a bad week for Likud; the public, it turns out, objects to this behavior, to say the least.”

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