On Wednesday evening, it became official. President Reuven Rivlin exercised his constitutional power to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate to form a governing coalition; Bibi’s fifth consecutive mandate and sixth overall.

Easier said, of course, than done.

Earlier in the week, President Rivlin conferred with the leaders of each party holding Knesset seats as a result of the elections on April 9. The purpose is for the leaders to advise the president as to which of the parties holding the largest bloc of seats they are prepared to support in a coalition government. Of 120 seats in total, PM Netanyahu’s Likud took 36, followed closely by Blue and White, with 35 mandates. Two Arab parties with 10 seats combined backed neither of the big winners. Of the remainders, there are 10 seats representing left-leaning parties and 29 seats held by right-wing parties pledging support to a Likud-led coalition–on terms, of course.

Advantage, Bibi.

Enter the former Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman. Leader of the secular Israel Our Home party, supported mainly by older Israelis from the FSU, Lieberman commands five Knesset seats, and that gives him considerable leverage. Without his seats, Bibi’s coalition will be a bare 60 out of 120.

But Lieberman’s support comes at a very high price, which Bibi may not be able to afford.

Lieberman resigned in a huff in November for a number of reasons, foremost among them likely his belief that the loss of his support might trigger elections. He was not wrong.

The principled reason he articulated for walking off the job was his sharp disagreement with how Netanyahu was managing the ongoing crisis with Gaza and his continued avoidance of a showdown with the Haredim over a Bill imposing a compulsory military draft on ultra-orthodox youth. That disagreement over a compulsory draft for religious objectors threatens to implode the coalition before it is even formed.

For decades, the exclusion from the draft of men studying in yeshiva full time has been tolerated, but the resentment of this practice among the broader Israeli population can no longer be contained. The children of the modern orthodox–as well as traditional and secular men and women–all serve in the IDF at age 18 for a minimum of 2-3 years (depending on gender and fluctuations in mandatory term of service).

Since 1948, the ultra-orthodox have been granted an exemption from military service, a colossal error in judgment on the part of David Ben Gurion. He joined the rest of the world in taking pity on the few tattered remnants of the great Chasidic dynasties in Eastern Europe that survived the Holocaust. Many emigrated to North America and Australia, but a handful chose to make new homes in the fledgling state of Israel. Likely seeing his own childhood in these Haredim, Ben Gurion was moved by sentiment and pragmatism to allow them to ease into their new lives and out of the old. After all, he is famously reported to have predicted that, after a few years in the land of new, strong, warrior Jews, they would all choose to abandon the old ways of the ghetto. They would, he was certain, throw off the black and white garb, yarmulkes, cut their side curls, and till the soil with their bronzed, muscular compatriots. Why would anyone choose to continue living such a constrained life, he thought, which was no longer necessary in a Jewish country where all were emancipated.

Ben Gurion was wrong. The numbers of Haredim have mushroomed since 1948 from several thousand to more than a million, or 12 percent of the population. Typically, they have very large families and are disproportionately impoverished. They eschew secular education and perform neither army service nor some form of national volunteer service. They have historically been openly anti-Zionist in their views, believing that only the Messiah can “create” the state of Israel, and regard the current iteration of the Jewish nation to be blasphemous. To don a uniform and take up arms for such an aberration is unthinkable. In fact, the few Haredi youths who do volunteer for army service tend to be ostracized and, not infrequently, physically attacked by members of their community.

Too often, clusters of Haredi men block main transportation arteries leading in and out of Jerusalem, always at rush hour, for hours, to protest the threatened draft. Police typically resort to water cannons and other crowd control methods to disperse the crowds.

The notion, promoted by the Haredi communities, that any person devoting their life to Torah study should not only be exempted from military service but should also receive financial support from the state is a corruption of an accepted custom in the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

In many villages, there was one, maybe two, Talmud chachamim (brilliant students). Their duty and honor, if selected, was to study Torah full-time and enjoy the financial support of the community. It was a sort of redemptive exercise; the righteous study of the genius (highest and best use of scarce resources) would benefit the community as a whole.

Never, ever, was there a custom that every man in the village, if he so chose, should be free to study full-time and, somehow, provide for his family of 9, 10, 11 children from the largesse of others. This “custom” is an obscene, abusive perversion that has become entrenched in the state of Israel during the last 70 years.

It is also not sustainable, economically or socially. During the recent election campaign, speaking at an English language town hall event in Tel Aviv, the Yesh Atid leader (before he merged with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party) told the audience that, in a decade or so, 50 percent of first grade students in Israel will be either Arab or Haredi, given current demographic trends. That means that half the population will be expected to bear the military burden and also a disproportionate share of the economic cost of supporting the state.

And so, the battle lines are drawn.

Lieberman has made it clear that his key conditions for supporting a Likud government are that he be re-appointed Minister of Defense and that the bill he prepared before resigning requiring Haredi men to serve in the IDF be passed without delay.

Opposing Lieberman is Yakov Litzman, the Haredi Deputy Minister of Health in the previous government. He has stated clearly and repeatedly that if the draft Bill is passed as it now reads that he will withdraw his support for the coalition.

Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Sephardic religious party, Shas, commands 8 Knesset seats and concurs fully with Litzman on the draft issue. Without their support, Likud has no coalition. Without Lieberman’s seats, they have a razor-thin mandate that is, realistically, untenable for long, if at all.

Lieberman, Litzman, and Deri are all adamant that if their threshold terms regarding the draft bill are not met that they will bolt, preferring another round of elections to so fundamentally betraying their core principles.

Later this year, Bibi will be the longest serving PM in Israeli history, surpassing Ben Gurion. To achieve this milestone, he must first resolve this epic impasse.

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