Naftali Bennett
Naftali BennettHezki Ezra

In his first wide-ranging policy speech since the election, Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett said that his party was committed to ensuring that there was plenty of money for Torah institutions of all streams. “If Torah study is important to the Jewish people, it must be a part of the regular state budget.”

In the past, budgets for yeshivas were the result of coalition agreements, and negotiations over the Special Arrangements Law that accompanies each yearly state budget, and which the High Court several years ago declared illegal. But Bennett said that one of his party's objectives was to change the source of funding for religious higher education. “Torah study cannot be based on coalition agreements. It must be part of the state budget. The state must decide if Torah study is important or not. If it is important, a regular allocation in the state budget must be made,” he said.

Bennett, appearing at an event for the heads of religious institutions, spoke on the backdrop of loud rhetoric from MKs in his own party and in Shas, with the latter claiming that Jewish Home had made “a deal” with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party to institute a maximal draft law for hareidi yeshiva students. According to plans promoted by Lapid, only 400 of the top scholars in hareidi yeshivas would receive exemption from military service. Everyone else would have to serve in the army, or at least national service. Lapid has repeatedly said that he does not intend to compromise on this position, and that the price for his Yesh Atid's joining of a government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu would be the latter's acceptance of this point.

Bennett made it clear in his speech that he was not of a single mind with Lapid. “I want to say this clearly: We will work on behalf of the entire Torah world, not just that of religious Zionist institutions. We will not allow the Torah world to be damaged.”

Bennett laid out three principles that he said his party would act on: “Torah learning is important to the entire Jewish people, not just the hareidim; the hareidim are our brothers, not our enemies; and those who are truly learning Torah will continue to learn, while the others will serve the country and join Israeli society.

“For years we were exposed to the idea that religious Zionists were less 'religious' than the hareidim,” said Bennett. “But we are not a 'compromise path.' Religious Zionism is the 'golden path,' the proper way,” he asserted.