The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

Is Netanyahu’s Coalition in Danger?

There were massive protests in Israel this weekend.

Tens of thousands of people across Israel joined the families of hostages this weekend to protest against the government and call for the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli prime minister grappled with one of the most serious threats yet to his coalition.

The protesters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, Caesarea and other cities on Saturday – and at a further demonstration outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on Sunday – demanded the release of those still held captive in Gaza after close to six months, and labelled Netanyahu an “obstacle to the deal”, vowing to persist until he leaves power.

I take it this is more about Netanyahu’s apprent disinterest in the several remaining hostages more than it is about the ongoing inhumanity toward Palestinians in Gaza, but anything that might pry Netanyahu out of power is a step in the right direction.

Another source of friction that is getting less attention in the U.S. is the protected status of the ultra-orthodox, or Haredim, in Israel. the Haredi are exempt from military service and also receive government subsidies not available to non-Haredi. I understand this was done to allow them to spend more time at study. But at first they were a tiny portion of the Israeli population; now they are about 13 to 14 percent, and growing. I take it the non-Haredi in Israel have issues about this.

This happened last week:

In a decision that has deep ramifications for society — not to mention Netanyahu’s government — Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the suspension of state subsidies for ultra-Orthodox Jews studying in yeshivas instead of doing military service. It came just days ahead of an April 1 deadline for the government to agree on a new law to allow the community to avoid being drafted.

“There is a chance that this could be the first break in the wall for this coalition,” said Gilad Malach, an expert on the ultra-Orthodox at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank. Ultra-Orthodox leaders see the ruling as a betrayal of promises from Netanyahu, he said, including assurances of financial aid and military exemptions in return for their political support.

A couple of hours ago, the Times of Israel reported that Haredi are protesting the Israeli Defense Force.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, protesters block the Route 4 highway in the center of the country during a demonstration against IDF conscription, Hebrew media reports.

The demonstrators belong to the extremist Jerusalem Faction, Ynet reports, which numbers some 60,000 members and regularly demonstrates against the enlistment of yeshiva students.

The protest comes on the same day that a High Court of Justice order comes into effect, freezing financial support for Haredi yeshivas with students who receive annual deferrals from military service, and as the Defense Ministry has been instructed to begin the process of drafting Haredi men.

As I understand it — and full disclosure, this is not one of my areas of expertise — Netanyahu’s political coalition depends on the support of the Haredi. Josh Marshall explains,

Men from the ultra-orthodox community are exempted from the draft and a great proportion of their families live on public assistance, notionally because they spend their days in religious study. This has been a simmering issue for years. But for a complicated set of reasons it came to a head last week when there was a deadline to formalize a new system which would either continue these privileges and benefits, scrap them or do something in between.

The critical context is that over the last three decades the ultra-orthodox parties have become a central pillar of any right-wing government. They supply about a quarter of the seats. The issue is basically irresolvable if you rely on those votes and seats. No them, no majority. That all hit the fan last week. There was no decision Netanyahu could make and hold his government together. So basically he just didn’t. And we’re now seeing how long that lasts. This seems to have both thrown new light on the precariousness of Netanyahu’s government and shown again that the whole country is hostage to the Prime Minister’s need to give them basically anything they demand. In the context of a national emergency the existence of a whole community that refuses to serve in the army and lives off everyone’s taxes is simply too much for many people.

A big chunk of Netanyahu’s Likud party is made up of the ultra-orthodox and the “settler crazies,” per Josh Marshall. If that coalition falls apart, Netanyahu goes down too. And without Netanyahu the coalition will probably be shattered for some time.

Juan Cole wrote a couple of days ago,

The exemption from military service for the ultra-Orthodox has become enormously unpopular during the Israeli campaign against Gaza, where some 500 troops have been killed and thousands wounded. The resentment has grown in part because of the high birthrate among the ultra-Orthodox, such that they now make up some 13 percent of Israel’s population, up from 2 percent when Israel was founded. To have such a large group paid to pray while other Israelis are fighting and dying is increasingly untenable.

The need to subsidize the ultra-Orthodox, many of whom do not receive a practical education and therefore end up unemployed or under-employed, has driven the Israeli government to support their relocation to the Palestinian West Bank, where the government usurps Palestinian land for inexpensive housing for these Jewish fundamentalists. Some 55.8% of ultra-Orthodox men are unemployed.

Needless to say, this bears watching.

In Other News: Joyce Vance writes that she’s watching to see what happens with Trump’s gag order in the Manhattan hush-money trial. On Friday, Alvin Bragg asked the judge to toughen up the gag order. Trump responded to this by reposting images of the trial judge’s daughter, presumably so that Trump’s goons can recognize her. Joyce Vance also speculates how Trump might try to stop the trial, scheduled to start in two weeks. Sickness or a death in the family could do it. He might also try to fire his lawyers.


13 thoughts on “Is Netanyahu’s Coalition in Danger?

  1. "…they spend their days in religious study."  So they get subsidies for that.  It seems obvious how they spend their nights, given that fast increase in their percentage of the population.

    Nice work if you can get it.

  2. There were huge protests even before October 7.

    Netanyahu knows he will be on trial, and probably end in jail, if he steps down, so he will not do so voluntarily. I don't see why any of his coalition would bolt even though the Haredi parties would like to – the ones who are not in it up to their necks know they're toast if there are elections. So the deadlock continues.

    Meantime, did you see Doonesbury on Sunday?

    • The three Hamas billionaires living in safe luxury are named Ismail Haniyeh, Moussa Abu Marzuk and Khaled Mashal. They own, respectively, 4 gigabux, 3 gigabux, and 4 gigabux. They got that money by diverting aid meant for Palestinians to their own bank accounts.

      The tragedy of Israel is that it has real enemies. The worse tragedy of Palestine is that it has no real friends. That includes Hamas and Fatah.

  3. I wonder if the Netenyahu government will end as it began, with an act of violence. It strikes me also that there is something here within your field of religious history: a conflict of secular and theocratic political goals.

    • I would have warned the people who established the modern state of Israel that setting aside one religious faction for special privileges was a recipe for disaster. Such things inevitably corrupt both the religious faction and the government. 

  4. I suspect the Haredi have many roles which justify their symbiotic relationship with the larger society much like the Zealot of any organization would have.  I use the term symbiotic here with reservations, as it has a definition which applies to plants or animals that have productive interdependence on each other which is not parasitic.  A parasitic relationship of course is not a productive interdependence.  In times of war non-combatants can easily be viewed critically by those that are subject to conscription.

    BiBi seems to have developed a productive interdependence with the Haredi, who give him political power and keep him out of jail.  Hmm, he does this without selling Torahs publicly at least.  It is possible this relationship could turn parasitic.  The answer is in the social dynamics of a culture which is way above my pay grade.  As you can see, I need to steal terms best left for use in biology even to comment on matters of culture.  I hope our State Department is up to this challenge.


  5. Yesterday Israel bombed the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, destroying a Consular building and killing a bunch of people, apparently including at least one high-ranking IRGC officer.

    Embassies are legally considered to be territory of the foreign country, so technically, Israel bombed Iran yesterday.  This is a pretty clear act of war, and pretty clearly the kind of thing that Biden has been begging Israel to avoid.

    There will undoubtedly be a UN Resolution condemning this; I hope the US doesn't veto it.

    I *really* don't want us to get dragged into a shooting war with Iran. 

  6. In a better timeline than this, Netanyahu and the Hamas billionaires would now be imprisoned in the Hague, awaiting trial for war crimes. The trouble is that Netanyahu and the Hamas billionaires are frenemies. They need each other, and they need their war of atrocities, for peace would expose them to the danger of justice.

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