Coalition threatened over bill exempting ultra-Orthodox from IDF draft

Israel’s Yisrael Beyteinu party has threatened the Knesset coalition over a new bill protecting ultra-Orthodox men from conscription.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Yisrael Beyteinu Chairman Robert Ilatov sent a letter Monday to the Knesset coalition chairman demanding that no vote be held this Wednesday on an ultra-Orthodox bill regarding exemption from army service, saying that otherwise, his party will bolt the coalition.

The two haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties in the current government, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas, want a quick vote on a preliminary reading of a Basic Law they have formulated to exempt their ultra-Orthodox followers permanently from army service. As a Basic Law, it could not be overturned again by the Supreme Court.

The law would enshrine Torah study as a “foundational value in the heritage of the Jewish people.” As such, young haredi men studying full-time would be exempt from military service, since they would be seen as doing “substantial service for the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” as the bill states.

Ilatov warned that the entire five-person faction would vote against the proposed legislation, including Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, which would mean her automatic resignation from the government. If Yisrael Beyteinu leaves, the coalition majority of 66 Knesset members would be reduced to a razor-thin 61.

‘Political thievery that we cannot accept’

“It is important to note,” Ilatov wrote in his letter, “that in this week’s meeting of coalition heads, the topic of haredi conscription did not come up, and therefore, bringing up the bill is political thievery that we cannot accept.” He demanded that the bill undergo “a comprehensive and organized discussion in the coalition and government, as accepted according to the coalition agreement.”

Last September, the High Court of Justice (HCJ) struck down the existing law that allowed ultra-Orthodox men who studied Torah full-time to be exempt from military service, saying that it discriminated against non-haredi Jews and was increasing the inequality in the “draft burden.”

However, since the HCJ set a one-year deadline to implement a different framework for handling the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition that he was not going to deal with a new version of the law until later in the year.

A UTJ official confirmed to Ynet that the party was trying to take advantage of the opportunity created by Netanyahu’s desire to push the 2019 state budget through in the coming weeks. According to Hebrew media reports on Friday, UTJ’s rabbinical council instructed its lawmakers to vote against the budget unless a start is made on the army exemption law.