Sound off, 1,2, sound off, 3, 40: 6 things to know for December 4
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Sound off, 1,2, sound off, 3, 40: 6 things to know for December 4

IDF faces blowback after report reveals it had published numbers of ultra-Orthodox enlistment for years with an extra zero or two, purportedly in effort to meet quotas

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Soldier and ultra-Orthodox man, shoulder to shoulder (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Soldier and ultra-Orthodox man, shoulder to shoulder (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Mistakes may have been made: The IDF admits that it published inflated numbers of ultra-Orthodox enlistment for years. Carmela Menashe from the Kan public broadcaster reports that officers purposely lied to cover up slumping recruitment tallies.

  • Officials in the army’s department responsible for tracking enlistment numbers in the Haredi community have been doubling and even tripling the tally of ultra-Orthodox recruits to make it seem like the military was meeting the quotas set by law, Kan reports. The faulty numbers were sent to the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister, and any other relevant government bodies, and published in official reports.
  • “Recently, a mistake was discovered in the count of the ultra-Orthodox soldiers in recent years. Lessons have been learned regarding the criteria for the tally and regarding the determination of the body in charge of counting the Haredi soldiers in the IDF,” the army says in a statement, trying to play it cool. It later says that it would launch a probe into the mishap.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer argues that while there is no defending the IDF’s actions, the rest of government would be wise to share some of the blame. “The State of Israel must absorb hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and women into society and the economy. Instead of making the profound changes necessary in education and employment systems, the challenge is thrown to the IDF.”
  • “Part of the blame must be placed on those who repeatedly use the false ‘sharing the burden’ slogan. There can be no shared burden between a secular or religious young person who received a reasonable education and an ultra-Orthodox young man who has been denied basic education or a neglected Arab youth.”
  • Pfeffer’s colleague Josh Breiner writes that the forgery “stems from the secular obsession with drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews… The IDF does not need ultra-Orthodox soldiers and 90 percent of the ultra-Orthodox recruits are not really ultra-Orthodox [in practice]. It is time to internalize that the ultra-Orthodox will not enlist in the army and invest the money and energy so that more and more of them will enter the work force.

2. Last, last ditch effort: In what was billed by many Hebrew media outlets as a “last ditch” meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz to prevent another election (even though there are still eight days before the deadline and there will surely be additional “last ditch meetings”), the sides apparently fail to make progress on an elusive unity deal and the sit-down concludes after 45 minutes.

  • Likud claims Netanyahu had offered to serve first as prime minister for just six months in a rotational deal and that Gantz’s deputy Yair Lapid was the only one scuttling the deal. Blue and White asserts that no such offer was made and that Netanyahu is set on dragging the country back to the polls.
  • Likud MK Miki Zohar tells Kan radio that Blue and White are “no longer relevant” and that Likud is putting to bed its efforts to form a unity government with the Gantz-led list. Speaking on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport on his way to Lisbon, Netanyahu says he sympathizes with Miki Cohen’s (read: Zohar’s) frustration, but that he is actually still trying to reach a unity deal with Blue and White.
  • Channel 13 reports that the parties had been nearing a unity deal, but that it stalled over several key issues, and elections therefore still look likely. Both parties had agreed in principle to a premiership rotation deal between Gantz and Netanyahu, in which Netanyahu would go first but serve for only a few months before taking a leave of absence to deal with the corruption charges against him.
  • According to the report, the parties also agreed to split evenly 30 ministerial posts and that Blue and White No. 2 Lapid would serve as foreign minister, No. 4 Gabi Ashkenazi would be tapped as defense minister, and another MK from the party would head the Interior Ministry, giving the centrist slate control over many religion-and-state and municipal governance issues. Likud, in turn, would receive the Finance Ministry and MK Yuli Edelstein would remain Knesset speaker.
  • Where the sides disagreed, Channel 13 says, was on whether Netanyahu’s initial term would last three months or six, Gantz’s subsequent term 18 months or 24, and whether Netanyahu would remain a member of the security cabinet after vacating the PMO. Netanyahu also refused to give Gantz a clear answer on whether he intends to seek Knesset immunity from prosecution.

3. A valley-ent effort: Perhaps most controversially,  the sides agreed — according to Channel 13 — that Israel would annex the Jordan Valley under the new government, a key Netanyahu campaign promise, but one that is opposed by much of Israel’s security establishment.

  • Channel 12 reports that Israeli military officials have been Netanyahu that Jordan may take drastic steps if Israel continues to push for annexation of its valley, including possibly freezing a quarter-century-old peace treaty between the nations.
  • Senior security officials are warning the prime minister that if the move is carried out, Jordan’s King Abdullah II would likely be pressed to put kibosh on the peace deal, which has become extremely unpopular on the Jordanian street.
  • For his part, Netanyahu appears unfazed, announcing on his way to Lisbon that he intends on bringing up the issue during his meeting with US Secretary Mike Pompeo later today. If previous American responses to Israeli moves deemed by Palestinians as detrimental to the peace process serve as any hint, the top US diplomat will not likely make a peep.

4. Where’d all my friends go? Channel 13 reports that Netanyahu is scrambling, after two prominent settler leaders voiced their support for his Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar, showing early chinks in his armor that has long been assumed impenetrable.

  • Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, who has brought hundreds of settler voters into the Likud fold, and Kedumim mayor Hananel Dorani, who until last month served as the leader of the Yesha settlement umbrella council, each release statements saying that with all due respect to Netanyahu, he has been unable to form a government and the time has come to move on with someone who can.
  • As a result of the statements, Channel 13 says the prime minister made frantic calls to settler leaders — who have long been among his most loyal supporters — urging them to voice their support. New Yesha Council chairman and Jordan Valley mayor David Elhayani picked up the phone and has released a letter of support for the premier that was signed by 8 of the 24 other Israeli mayors of West Bank towns. However, all of them are chairmen of smaller localities; one settler leader tells The Times of Israel that Netanyahu is less than pleased as a result.

5. A nation divided: Yedioth Ahronoth leads its front page with the worrying OECD report which found that the gap between the abilities of Hebrew and Arabic-speaking students is the largest between socioeconomic groups among the 79 participating countries.

  • The results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment tests, known as PISA, show a significant gap between Hebrew and Arabic speakers in all three of the educational skills assessed — reading, mathematics, and sciences. Overall, among the 79 countries surveyed, Israel was 37th in reading, 41st in mathematics, and 42nd in sciences, placing the Jewish state in the company of countries such as Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Morocco.
  • Education Minister Rafi Peretz calls the gaps “unacceptable,” adding that they “require us to conduct a thorough check.”
  • Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi tweets that the PISA results reflect “a failure by the Education Ministry to include Arab society, which requires drawing conclusions and improvements.”
  • Haaretz’s editorial column calls the gaps shown by the PISA results an “existential threat.”

6. Investigate the investigated: As Netanyahu and their allies continue their calls to probe those who led the criminal cases into the prime minister over suspicions of over-reaching, the Israel Hayom Likud mouthpiece is taking a slightly different course.

  • The freebie’s top headline screams: The State Prosecutor’s Office is considering charging media rivals Yedioth Ahronoth and Walla, which were separately implicated in a pair of cases in which Netanyahu is suspected of offering favors for positive coverage.
  • The fine print clarifies that the Justice Ministry simply has not decided whether to press charges, leading reporter Akiva Bigman to conclude that the prosecution is indeed considering pursuing them.
  • In a letter published exclusively by Israel Hayom, right-wing attorney Michael Deborin demands that Yedioth and Walla be probed, arguing that “it is necessary to prosecute not only the private individuals involved in the offenses, but also the companies themselves…  that benefited or were to benefit from the offense.”
  • Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson notes that in using the word “offense,” even Netanyahu’s supporters recognize that wrongs were committed by the premier.
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