New government's agenda

No ban on racist MKs, a curbed judiciary, more yeshiva funds: 12 key coalition plans

Emerging deals between Likud and partners also provide for death penalty for terrorists, advancing annexation, potential anti-LGBT discrimination, gender-segregated public events

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by MKs after a vote for the new Knesset speaker on December 13, 2022. At bottom right is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by MKs after a vote for the new Knesset speaker on December 13, 2022. At bottom right is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night announced his success in forming a government with his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies, but still needs to finalize coalition agreements with his intended partners.

Netanyahu’s bloc is made up of his right-wing Likud party, its longtime ultra-Orthodox allies Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the far-right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam factions.

None of the parties has yet signed a final coalition deal with Likud, although Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism announced Thursday that they’d reached framework accords with Netanyahu’s party.

Netanyahu has until January 2 to cement agreements with his coalition partners and swear in the new government.

Some details of the forthcoming agreements have emerged in recent days, although they have not been formalized and are still subject to change.

Here are 12 of the central and most contentious clauses and plans:

Ending a ban on MKs who incite racism

Otzma Yehudit, led by far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, said it had reached an agreement to pass legislation that will end a ban on individuals who incite racism from serving in the Knesset.

According to the party, legislation will be introduced to remove the clause in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Knesset stipulating that those inciting to racism will be disqualified from running for parliament.

That same clause was introduced by the Knesset in 1985 and successfully blocked the racist Kach party — led by extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, of whom Ben Gvir is a disciple — from returning to parliament.

Otzma Yehudit said earlier reports that the changes will also include removing a clause disqualifying those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state were incorrect.

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Death penalty for terrorists

Otzma Yehudit also said Likud has agreed to its demand for a law imposing the death penalty on terrorists, along with a commitment to pass the measure before Israel approves its state budget for 2023.

A clause in the coalition agreement cites “the intensification of terror attacks aimed at harming Israel as a Jewish state, and the need to notch a decisive victory against the attackers,” as reasons for imposing a death penalty, Otzma Yehudit said in a statement.

Capital punishment for terrorists has long been a demand of right-wing lawmakers but has never found enough support to become law. While Israel has a death penalty on the books, it has only been used once since the state’s founding, in the case of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

The statement does not say what kinds of terror offenses will be subject to capital punishment. Israel’s definition of terror has been criticized for encompassing a wide array of actions, including throwing rocks at heavily armed soldiers.

The agreement has not been confirmed by Likud.

The West Bank settlement of Efrat, March 10, 2022. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

West Bank annexation

A Thursday Channel 12 report said Likud and Religious Zionism have agreed to move toward annexing West Bank land. However, the commitment is vaguely worded, enabling Netanyahu to make no movement on the issue if he chooses.

The text of the agreement states that the Jewish people “have a natural right over the Land of Israel,” according to Channel 12.

“In light of our belief in the aforementioned right, the prime minister will lead the formulation and advancement of policies within the framework of applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” the relevant clause in the coalition deal states, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

The agreement stipulates, however, that Netanyahu will do so while “choosing the timing and weighing all of the State of Israel’s national and international interests.”

It was unclear from the text whether the agreement was intended to relate to the entire West Bank or only parts of it.

There was no confirmation of the report from either Likud or Religious Zionism. A statement released Wednesday by Religious Zionism that listed the key principles of their coalition deal did not mention annexation but said the sides agreed to advance the legalization of wildcat settlement outposts and to develop infrastructure in the West Bank.

The Hesder Yeshiva in the Itamar settlement in the West Bank, May 2, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Funding for religious study

According to a widely circulated copy of an unsigned deal between United Torah Judaism and Likud, the two sides agreed that “the independence, unique status and relative budget” of ultra-Orthodox schools will be preserved, while the next education minister will agree to extend an exemption allowing some Haredi institutions to not teach core subjects like English and mathematics.

The deal includes a clause stipulating that the government will prioritize the construction of new schools in ultra-Orthodox communities and grant significant funding hikes to existing educational institutions, including by matching the salaries of teachers to those at non-Haredi schools.

Religious Zionism said it had agreed with Likud to legislate a quasi-constitutional Basic Law declaring that “Torah study is a fundamental principle in the heritage of the Jewish people.”

Religious Zionism gave no further details on the proposed law, which some of Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners have backed as part of efforts to formally enshrine exemptions to mandatory military service for yeshiva students.

Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Reining in the judiciary, as a priority

The coalition agreements between Likud and its partners will require all factions in the incoming government to provide “complete and total preference” to legislation aimed at reforming the judicial system, the draft proposals indicate.

“All factions of the coalition will support all bills, including Basic Laws and amendments to Basic Laws, as proposed by the Justice Minister,” Likud’s deal with United Torah Judaism declared, in text that is expected to be copied to the other parties’ agreements as well. The next justice minister is slated to be a Likud lawmaker.

The agreement includes a commitment to promoting the so-called “override clause,” a highly contentious move that would allow the Knesset to bypass or overturn judicial rulings against legislation and government decisions. The details published so far do not specify how many MKs would be required to negate rulings by the top court and re-legislate laws struck down as undemocratic.

The right has long sought to overhaul checks and balances between the judicial and political branches, making the judiciary more subordinate to politicians, including through weakening the Supreme Court and increasing politicians’ influence on judicial appointments.

Religious Zionism said it had agreed with Likud to advance “significant and historic reform” of the legal system.

Participants march under heavy security in the annual Pride Parade, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Potential anti-LGBT discrimination

UTJ’s agreement stipulates that laws will be changed to allow service providers to refuse customers “due to religious belief” — a likely reference to the LGBT community — “provided the service or product is not unique and a similar alternative can be obtained in geographic proximity and at a similar price.”

Religious Zionism’s agreement included a change to a law that would allow business owners to refuse service due to “religious belief,” the Kan public broadcaster reported. It would allow event halls to refuse to host LGBT events, for example. Under current law, such a refusal would incur a heavy fine.

The one-man Noam party led by Avi Maoz ran on an anti-LGBT, anti-pluralist agenda, and Maoz has decried female enlistment in the IDF.

Maoz will head a department at the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of Israel’s “Jewish national identity” in the next government.

Under that office, Maoz is slated to take control over an Education Ministry unit in charge of approving external educational vendors, which play a critical role in public school programming. Especially prevalent in secular schools, these vendors cover a range of subjects from sexual health to bar mitzvah preparation.

Police at the scene of a deadly shooting in Umm al-Fahm, September 4, 2022. (Flash90)

New Shin Bet division to focus on Arab crime

Otzma Yehudit and Likud agreed to form a new division in the Shin Bet security agency dedicated to tackling crime in Arab society, Otzma Yehudit said. Its leader Ben Gvir has employed anti-Arab rhetoric and calls for the deportation of Arabs who are deemed “disloyal” to the state.

Deadly violence in Arab society has been a growing scourge in recent years. Since the beginning of 2022, 113 members of the Arab community have been killed in violent incidents, according to the Abraham Initiatives Watchdog, which tracks the violence.

The reported Shin Bet agreement triggered anger in Arab society, with several civil rights groups accusing the government of discrimination or neglect.

The Shin Bet’s mandate has largely not extended to criminal or civilian matters to date, and the agency was not used to help dismantle Jewish organized crime groups in the 1990s.

Ben Gvir is expected to head the National Security Ministry in the next government. He has been promised expanded powers over the police, as well as taking over control from the IDF of the West Bank Border Police unit.

Religious Zionist party leader Bezalel Smotrich after coalition talks with Shas’s Aryeh Deri and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Plans to ‘Judaize’ some areas

Religious Zionism said it had reached agreements with Likud for crafting plans to “Judaize” the Galilee and Negev, which are both home to significant Arab communities.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party is reportedly set to take control of Israel’s community centers, known as matnasim. The centers are a staple in many communities, providing educational programs, youth activities and sports training.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri seeks control of the community centers to exert more influence in the towns and cities where they’re located, particularly in the more outlying areas known as the periphery, according to the Globes business daily.

Religious Zionism also said it had secured a budget of hundreds of millions of shekels for “strengthening Jewish identity.”

MK Moshe Gafni, right, and MK Yitzhak Goldknopf speak during a meeting of the United Torah Judaism party at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

State funding for gender-segregated events

According to the draft deal, UTJ has secured an agreement to allow public funding for gender-segregated events, which the ultra-Orthodox party has claimed is respectful to its deeply religious constituents.

Such gender segregation is currently illegal, but the draft deal promises to legalize the practice.

The draft confirms previously reported details about UTJ’s far-reaching demands to tighten Orthodox control over religious institutions and apply religion to civil affairs, along with a slew of demands on education, welfare and other areas.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police as they protest against the arrest of a Haredi Jewish man who failed to comply with the military draft, in Jerusalem, September 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox exemption from the IDF

UTJ also secured promises to legislate further military exemptions for full-time religious study and to pass a quasi-constitutional Basic Law on the Torah. UTJ has set both as conditions for supporting the next state budget.

The party has been pushing for legislation to formalize a blanket exemption from compulsory military duty for full-time yeshiva students.

Military service is mandatory for most Jewish Israeli men, but the ultra-Orthodox often receive exemptions in order to continue their religious studies. Some extremist Haredim refuse to even apply for such an exemption, often leading to arrests.

The exemptions have long infuriated secular Israelis, but ultra-Orthodox communities have resisted repeated attempts to require them to register for the draft.

The issue has been subject to a years-long legislative battle. Draft refusers are sometimes arrested, sparking protests.

Illustrative: Immigrants fleeing from war zones in the Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office, at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Conversions and the Law of Return

Religious Zionism said it had been agreed to amend the Law of Return due to “the difficulties and loopholes created by the grandchild clause.”

Likud in response said its partners demanded that the grandchild clause be changed, Netanyahu did not agree, and it was therefore decided to establish a committee to discuss the issue.

Religious Zionism and other factions in Netanyahu’s bloc have advocated scrapping the clause, which allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to receive Israeli citizenship as long as they don’t practice another religion. Religious lawmakers have claimed that it is leading to the dilution of Israel’s Jewish character by allowing immigrants not considered Jewish under Orthodox law.

The Law of Return is a cornerstone in Israel’s relationship with diaspora Jewry.

UTJ has also pressed to narrow the standards for Jewish immigration to Israel under the law.

Along with opposition leaders, several Likud lawmakers have pushed back against any changes. In an apparent nod to this pushback, the agreement between Likud and UTJ raises issues related to the grandchild clause and promises to quickly establish a committee to discuss reforms, rather than spelling out specific changes to the Law of Return. The committee will include representatives from all coalition parties.

The agreement also includes a clause reaffirming that only Orthodox conversions performed through the Chief Rabbinate will be accepted in Israel. Critics of the current system, including former religious services minister Matan Kahana, have said that the conversion system must be liberalized to encourage conversion among immigrants not recognized as Jewish under Orthodox law.

Religious Zionism also said it had secured a budget of hundreds of millions of shekels for “strengthening Jewish identity.”

File: View of the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank on July 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Support for settlements

Channel 13 reported that the parties have agreed to authorize several existing unrecognized settlements within 60 days of the government’s swearing-in. Authorities will connect the outposts to infrastructure including water and electricity.

The government will also budget NIS 300 million ($86 million) for settlements in the next four years, the unsourced report said.

Otzma Yehudit claimed it had secured NIS 150 million ($43 million) for planting olive trees in the West Bank “to stop Palestinian control of the land.”

Channel 12 said Religious Zionism had secured an agreement for settlers living in “high-risk areas” to begin receiving tax breaks next year.

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