Why Is Eli Yishai Smiling?

My latest at Open Zion:

Why is Eli Yishai smiling? By all accounts, the leader of Israel’s Shas party should be having a bad week: everyone seems to agree that the puzzling Mofaz-Netanyahu merger, while it won’t affect dealings with Iran or the Palestinians, is a death knell for draft exemptions and massive subsidies for Haredim. David Horovitz calls it a “genuine opportunity”; Jeff Goldberg thinks Kadima’s seats means Netanyahu won’t fear “the loss of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners”; here at Open Zion, Bernard Avishai’s expressed hope for a new “globalist” coalition against religious and other extremists. And yesterday, the new coalition unveiled plans to replace the Tal Law (which granted Haredim draft exemptions) with Kadima’s plan for universal national service.

Instead, Yishai praised the deal, saying, “The prime minister shared the whole move with me… the move does not contradict the coalition agreement with Shas.” Nor are other Haredim freaking out: Ynet reports that Bibi met with—and palliated the fears of—ministers from United Torah Judaism, the party of Ashkenazi Haredim. If real reform were in the air, Shas and UTJ would be bouncing off the walls.

So why aren’t they? Well, in the first place, they outnumber Kadima. In the now-hypothetical elections, Haredi parties would have won seventeen seats to Mofaz’s eleven. If Netanyahu is ever forced to choose between Kadima and the Haredim, it’s that number that matters, not Kadima’s current electoral position: the fact is, Mofaz commands fewer votes than it might seem. Worse, those eleven are a steep decline from Kadima’s earlier results (28 seats in the last elections). In the long-term, a party built on Ariel Sharon’s personal charisma and mostly made up of ex-Likudniks never had much of a future. If Mofaz hadn’t joined Netanyahu, he was headed for political irrelevance anyway.

Go there to read the rest.

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