Political tensions mount as IDF draft law threatens coalition’s stability

Is Israel facing early elections? 

By: Yona Schnitzer/TPS and World Israel News Staff

A brewing coalition crisis appeared to deepen Monday morning when Member of Knesset Yaacov Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism political party, threatened to vote against the proposed 2019 budget if the government fails to pass a law that would exempt ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from service in the IDF.

“If the draft law passes, there will be a budget, and if not, we will vote against the budget,” Litzman said in an interview with IDF Radio on Sunday.

Litzman said that the draft exemption was a cornerstone of the coalition agreement and that as a representative of Moezet Gdolei Hatorah – the supreme rabbinical policy-making council that dictates the UTJ party line  –  he had no choice but to make sure it was implemented. “I am a Member of Knesset (MK) on their behalf, I have to [follow their orders] down to the last comma,” Litzman said.

Litzman, however, appeared to leave a door open for an end to the crisis when he said that on Wednesday he held a meeting into the night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but couldn’t find a solution. “We submitted a draft law that the Likud didn’t like, so the Likud should offer us an alternative,” he said.

Responding to the ultra-Orthodox threats, Kulanu party leader and Treasury Minister Moshe Kahlon, a member of the coalition, said Saturday that if the budget is not passed, his party will dismantle the coalition.

Just before leaving for the US Sunday morning, Netanyahu commented on the coalition crisis. Speaking about the possibility it will collapse, he said that “there is no reason for that to happen, and with good will, it will not happen. I have good will, I hope my [coalition] partners do as well.”

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid commented on the coalition tensions Sunday, saying that “the ultra-Orthodox MKs are taking advantage of Netanyahu’s weakness due to his investigations, and are using it to stomp down the secular, religious and traditional public in Israel.”

“The [Draft] law is an insult to IDF soldiers, an insult to the state of Israel, and an insult to Israel’s Torah. Nowhere in the Torah is it stated that you are allowed to send others to be killed for you,” he stated.

Political analysts pointed to the end of June as a possible date for elections if the government falls.

Netanyahu is currently in the US for meetings with President Donald Trump and other US officials and for his address at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference.