Bayit Yehudi Torn between Lapid, Hareidim
The Bayit Yehudi party appears to be leaning in two opposing directions in the coalition talks. Party leader Naftali Bennett, according to the media, reportedly has agreed upon a pact with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, whereas rabbis working behind the scenes want Bayit Yehudi to form a common front with hareidi parties, in order to prevent a situation in which the government forces a radical program for compulsory military enlistment of men on the hareidim instead of an agreed-upon gradual compromise.
With Lapid's positions regarding enlistment apparently becoming more radical, senior figures in the hareidi and religious-Zionist leadership are attempting to forge a united front to reach a compromise on the matter of hareidi enlistment, often referred to as "equality in bearing the burden," in order to prevent a schism between parts of the Jewish public.
Maariv reported Monday that Bennett and Lapid have forged a common front in the coalition talks, which will make it impossible for Netanyahu to form a coalition without both of them. This could force Netanyahu to establish a government without hareidim, and to adopt Lapid's plan for forcing most hareidi men into military service in an abrupt fashion. This unconfirmed report could also be a bit of "spin," however, intended to cause Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu some extra heartburn. Israeli media have been "reporting" various possibilities endlessly.
Bayit Yehudi and the hareidim are also conducting negotiations regarding the next coalition, but more importantly perhaps, spiritual leaders of the movements are conducting their own contacts.
One of the central figures in these contacts is Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook, the rabbi of Rehovot, who is close to rabbis in both the Zionist and hareidi streams. At week's end, Rabbi Kook was present at a meeting between the Dean of the flagship Mercaz Harav yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira - who is being considered as candidate for the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbinate and is respected in the hareidi rabbinic world as well - and the Gerrer Rebbe, in the home of the latter.
On Sunday, a delegation of Zionist rabbis arrived at the home of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak. The delegation included Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon and Rabbi Haim Druckman.
On Monday, a meeting is to take place between the Gerrer Rebbe and Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi Tau and others. Later in the day, the same rabbis will meet the Belzer Rebbe in Jerusalem.
These rabbis wield great influence on the religious Zionist public. While Naftali Bennett's personal history as a soldier and high-tech entrepreneur appear to make him more comfortable with Lapid's secular agenda than with the hareidi parties, he will also have to listen to what his voter base expects of him, or face an insurrection within his party.