Kafe Knesset for March 24

Bayit Yehudi is in turmoil – not because of its leadership race, but because MK Bezalel Smotrich made a statement that goes against party leader Naftali Bennett’s raison d’etre and the ethos of religious Zionism. Smotrich penned a column for B’Sheva, a weekly newspaper for the Hardal the Haredi branch of religious Zionism. The article focused on the recent controversies about women and men serving in mixed combat units in the IDF. Smotrich called for religious Zionist teens to dodge the draft in protest until the IDF creates the conditions of service that they need. (Never mind that religous-Zionist yeshiva students generally serve in their own units in the IDF, anyway, which means they wouldn’t be in a tank with a woman.) “If [the IDF] understands that along with its concern over being terrorized by gender organizations and their supporters, we too can create a mess and a headache, the equation will change,” he wrote. “Because we are idealists who always volunteer without a second thought, the IDF doesn’t face this choice and allows itself to trample everything holy to us.”

Bennett, who’s known to be crazy about the army and extremely proud of religious Zionism’s outsized contributions to the IDF, immediately slammed Smotrich. “The IDF is us, and we do not threaten ourselves. No group, certainly not religious Zionists, has the right to ‘teach the IDF’ how to behave and certainly not to refuse or delay enlistment.”
A Bayit Yehudi source told Kafe Knesset that the party’s MKs got into quite the argument on their Whatsapp group, with IDF Col. (res.) Motti Yogev getting especially angry at Smotrich.

As for the uneventful Bayit Yehudi leadership primary, it turns out that it’s been infiltrated by trolls. Remember Yaakov Lapidot, the candidate who sent reporters a twitter poll in which only 14 people participated? Turns out that Lapidot’s candidacy is a hoax! Religous-Zionist news site Srugim uncovered the practical joke that Ma’ariv, Arutz Sheva, and yes, Kafe Knesset, fell for. Turns out that Yaakov Lapidot does not exist, and his photo was taken from Shutterstock.

Still in waiting mode for the next chapter of the latest coalition crisis, former Defense Minister Yaalon is starting to heat up his campaign on the sidelines of the main court. Its been almost a year since Yaalon was replaced by Avigdor Liberman, and earlier this month he reaffirmed that he will be heading a new party in the next election. That election, he estimated in a radio interview today, will take place within less then a year. Yaalon has picked up the pace of his political activity in recent weeks, with daily meetings with students, soldiers, and other groups all around the country, as well as regular media appearances and frequent interviews. The main theme guiding his talking points is challenging the man who fired him and the man whom he aims to replace – Bibi.

Against the backdrop of the continuing Israel Broadcast Corporation crisis, Yaalon’s latest attack on Netanyahu is over his endless engagement with the media. “The voices I hear about the media reveal alarming judgement and alarming priorities,” he told the Haredi Kol Barama station yesterday. “To bring down a government over the argument between the IBC and the IBA reflects a problem in democracy. The media’s job is to create checks and balances. When I see the assault on the media and hear a minister and a member of Knesset saying we have to control the media – it’s scary. What are we – Turkey? Are we Syria? Where the government controls the media?”

Yaalon hasn’t officially launched his new party yet, and his aides say he is discreetly working on scouting various public figures to join him on the list, which he envisions as a pragmatic right-wing party that will counter the growing populism in his former Likud home. But recent polls show that the electoral prospects of another right wing party – alongside the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, and center-right Kulanu – are shaky. In the latest poll, conducted this week for the local 103 radio station, Yaalon does not even pass the electoral threshold, and in other surveys this month he was projected to receive between 4-6 seats. Yaalon is only beginning his campaign, and polls in this era are always taken with a grain of salt, but these numbers are far from the minimum needed to reach the number 1 post, where Yaalon has stated he is aiming. If the numbers don’t change dramatically, many political pundits assume he might have to eventually join forces with another party, presumably Lapid’s Yesh Atid or Kahlon’s Kulanu. However, Yaalon and his aides totally dismiss this scenario. Time will tell.

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