Draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox or gov’t collapses: Minister

United Torah Judaism party slams potential delay to blanket exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox men, warns that they will bring down government if legislation stalls.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who leads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, warned that the government will collapse if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not fulfill his promise to pass legislation granting blanket exemptions from military service to the community.

“The prime minister has received clear information from me: there is an order from the Council of Torah Elders that if the conscription law is not passed before the budget, we will withdraw from the government. As long as there is no other directive [from the Council], this is what will be done,” Goldknopf told Mishpacha Magazine.

Under the current draft laws, ultra-Orthodox Israeli males can defer mandatory army service on a yearly basis if they study in a yeshiva until age 26, at which point they are exempt from the draft.

As part of his coalition agreement with UTJ, Netanyahu pledged to lower the age of the exemptions to age 21, and create a new Basic Law which would ease the bureaucratic process for members of the community to skip military service.

Netanyahu had promised to pass the legislation before the deadline for the state budget to be ratified, which must occur before the end of May, but the premier has walked back that pledge and asked ultra-Orthodox party heads for a delay regarding the matter.

While the Shas party has tacitly accepted the proposal, UTJ has pushed back against the delay.

Last week, Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Minister Meir Porush of UTJ slammed Netanyahu during an interview with Kikar HaShabbat.

“If Netanyahu can’t pass the draft law now, he should go home,” he said. “Why did we go to elections? Why did we support the formation of this new government – to hear the same excuses from the Bennett-Lapid era?”

Porush continued blasting Netanyahu, saying that by not fulfilling his promise, the premier “looks ridiculous.” He stressed that UTJ “stands by our demands” outlined in the coalition agreement.