Shaul Mofaz and his Kadima party entered into a unity government with Likud only two short months ago, and already they are out. The primary cause of the split is the disagreement over the universal draft law, intended to draft Haredim and Arabs. As you can see from the excerpts below, the drafting of the law has been highly contentious both within the government and in Israeli society, so this split was not unexpected. (Emphases are mine).
Kadima MKs voted by a wide margin to leave the Likud-led coalition Tuesday evening after weeks of turmoil over a new universal draft law.
Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz rejected universal draft proposals put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Tuesday.
Mofaz told reporters that Netanyahu had chosen his own interests above the interests of the country – and that despite the political price the Kadima leader paid, he was pursuing equality.
“Without a sharing of the burden of army duty, there can be no social justice –- and without social justice, there would be no sharing of the burden of army duty,” Mofaz said. He added that changing the draft age to 26 would not happen under his watch.
“I was ready for historic compromises, but I had a red line, which I could not cross,” he said.
Mofaz said Netanyahu had “sided with the draft-dodgers over those who carry the national burden.”
Netanyahu responded by saying he was sorry Kadima chose to leave the government. “We were very close to a significant change in the distribution of the national burden,” he said in a letter. “I explained to you that the only way to implement this in the field would be gradually and without tearing the Israeli society apart, especially during a period of time in which Israel finds itself in in front of many significant challenges. I will continue to work to create a responsible solution Israeli society expects.”
During the meeting, Mofaz sent a letter to Netanyahu saying he had missed a historic chance.
“Unfortunately, you decided not to take this opportunity,” he wrote. “Through narrow political considerations you chose a covenant with the ultra-Orthodox instead of with the Zionist majority.”
Three Kadima MKs voted against the departure from the coalition: Otniel Schneller, Avi Dichter, and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich.
“I don’t think we exhausted the process,” Berkovich said. “This was not a historical process, it was a political process. I felt there was a bit of hatred for the ultra-Orthodox.”
Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who had threatened to leave Kadima when it joined the coalition in May, said he was happy to see his party end its “strange collaboration with this evil government.”
Opposition head Shelly Yachimovich praised the move and called for early elections.
“Kadima has retired from the coalition and it’s the end of the shameful, miserable union between it and Netanyahu,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Before the vote by the Kadima faction to leave the government, Mofaz claimed he had no choice but to bolt.
“With great distress, I say there’s no escape but to take the decision to leave the coalition,” Mofaz said at the start of the meeting. “It was not easy to enter the government — I paid a public price for it — but there’s no escape from the need to break away.”
The former head of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, praised the move on her Facebook page: “The political partnership that was born in sin has ended – and good that it ended. There are no more fig leaves to cover the moral failure of this government. The people of Israel are better than the government that represents them.”
Kadima’s departure spells the end of a barely two-month national unity government, which saw Mofaz join forces with Netanyahu in May in return for an agreement in principle to legislate a new universal draft, among other things.
Currently, ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are given draft deferments under the Tal Law, which expires on August 1. Netanyahu said Monday that should no new law be in place by then, the army would apply the draft according to a law that puts yeshiva students on equal footing with the rest of the country’s 18-year-olds. In practice, the IDF will likely not draft the vast majority of potential haredi recruits.
Efforts between coalition parties to draft a new universal enlistment law, which would see the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs serve in the military or national service, have faltered over several issues. The Kadima-led Plesner committee was disbanded by Netanyahu late last month, though, he said, most of its recommendations would be accepted.
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu had adopted a proposal put forward by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), which called for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs to join the army or perform national service, such as serving in police or fire units, by ages 23 to 26. The motion also included incentives for those who enlist at a younger age.
Mofaz blasted the proposal as “disproportionate and contrary to the High Court ruling,” which stated that the burden of serving should be shared by all citizens. He also said it did not meet the principle of equality laid out by the Plesner committee.
Despite Kadima leaving the coalition, the government still stands, though only by a slim majority. Analysts have speculated Netanyahu may call for early elections.
Yisrael Beytenu said it would still try to push through its own universal draft legislation, which calls for the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs to all be drafted at 18.
“We’re hoping it will pass,” a spokesperson for the party said, adding that the bill had already passed a ministerial committee before Kadima joined the government.
The argument about the universal draft is one where I think both sides are essentially right. However speaking in practical terms I think that Netanyahu has common sense and pragmatism on his side. Activating a universal draft at age 18 will simply not happen. Israel’s jails will fill up with tens of thousands of haredim, not to mention Israeli Arabs too, and all that will happen is a huge contentious split in Israeli society. Implementing a draft that will enable national civilian service, akin to the religious girls’ Sherut Leumi (National Service), and installing it gradually over several years, while not being strictly equal in technical terms, will lead to a much farer sharing of the national social and security burden while preserving social unity as much as possible.
The Times of Israel has another article describing the effect of Kadima’s quitting the government on Israel’s polity:
The May 8 deal that brought Kadima into the coalition came as a complete surprise to the entire nation. Even the savviest Knesset insiders went to sleep the night before thinking the country was headed for early elections, only to wake up to the announcement of a unity government, one of the largest in Israel’s history, that was aspiring to achieve “historic changes.” Tuesday’s news that the experiment has failed, and that no historic changes will occur anytime soon, wasn’t really a surprise.
Already more than two weeks ago, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly disbanded the so-called Plesner committee, it had become apparent the Kadima-Likud partnership wasn’t built to last. Headed by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, the committee was tasked with formulating a bill to replace the Tal Law, which for a decade allowed yeshiva students to indefinitely defer army service but was struck down by the Supreme Court in February as unconstitutional. Netanyahu, probably thinking about who could be more valuable to him after the next elections, decided to side with his Haredi coalition partners and essentially showed Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz the door there and then.
It’s unclear whether Kadima’s return to the opposition bench means early elections. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition functioned more or less stably for three years. The summer Knesset recess starts next week. If he manages to somehow appease the Haredi parties – which reject any forced draft of their constituency — and at the same time satisfies the nationalist-secular Yisrael Beytenu — which demands that all citizens serve, with no exception – he could yet survive until the scheduled next elections, in October 2013.
“The change [in the conscription law] will come either way,” coalition chairman Zeev Elkin said minutes before Kadima voted itself out of the government. “I will continue to seek a responsible solution,” Netanyahu pledged.
Now the spotlight will be on Yisrael Beytenu. The party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was ready to break apart the previous coalition over the Tal Law replacement. And nothing says it won’t do the same thing again. On Wednesday, the Knesset will vote on the party’s own conscription bill in the first reading. It had passed the ministerial committee before Kadima entered the government but was frozen to give Plesner a chance.
The Tal Law expires on August 1. If in the two weeks that remain no replacement bill is passed into law, the decades-old Security Service Law will come into effect. That means that thousands of Haredim would no longer be exempted from military service and would have to show up at the next available induction center.
Once there, though, there will be no real change to their fate. The IDF is not about to put them all in uniform, as the prime minister has already made clear.
“I prefer an agreed-upon and gradual solution, but if we cannot reach such a solution by August 1, the IDF will draft according to its needs, and I believe that it will do so while taking into consideration the various publics so as to prevent a rift in the nation,” Netanyahu said two weeks ago, when he dissolved the Plesner committee. “Since the Security Service Law does not deal with the participation of the Arab and ultra-orthodox publics in civilian service, we will also work to provide arrangements for this issue.”
What does Kadima’s ungracious exit from the government mean for Israel’s political landscape? That’s an open question. But the center ground is vacant again.
Three Kadima MKs voted against leaving the coalition; they might look for ways to stay in the government, perhaps by trying to split the party. It is no secret that a good number of Kadima MKs are unhappy about Mofaz’s leadership and are looking for a good opportunity to abandon the sinking ship that is the party.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, recently acquitted of the most severe corruption charges against him, officially denies plans for a comeback, but confidants say he wishes for nothing more than to return to the Prime Minister’s Office — should his other legal hurdles melt away.
Intriguingly, Mofaz’s party leader predecessor Tzipi Livni Tuesday moved with uncharacteristic speed to hint at a comeback, promising a better government for Israel just minutes after Kadima officially returned to the opposition. And, unlike Mofaz, when she says she won’t join a Netanyahu-led coalition, there’s no doubting her credibility.
If Israel ever got into dire economic straits it could simply market itself as a soap opera writ large. The ratings would be huge! Although the storyline might be considered improbable.