Netanyahu to meet with Haredi party leaders over draft bill
The prime minister will meet with Haredi leaders after United Torah Judaism threatened not to support the 2019 state budget because its proposed amendment to recognize Torah studies as equal to military service was not put to a vote Wednesday, after the Knesset finished its discussions early because of Purim.
The Knesset plenum finished its discussions earlier on Wednesday because of the Jewish festival of Purim, and the short schedule did not leave time to hold the vote on the legislation, which would solicit state recognition of Torah studies to being equal to military service.
In response, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leader Yaakov Litzman announced his party won't vote for the new state budget. "The (amendment to the) Draft Law is an integral part of the coalition agreement and we expect all coalition parties to support it if they want the coalition to last," said Litzman, the deputy health minister.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman castigated UTJ's attempt to force the approval of the legislation, calling their proposed legislation a "draft dodging bill." He further slammed their apparent holding of the coalition to ransom by using the state budget as leverage as "no less than extortion using threats."
Lieberman that stressed his party, Yisrael Beytenu, will "not surrender" to the UTJ's pressure and will not allow the bill to pass.
UTJ's Council of Torah Sages first exhorted the party a few days ago to make their support dependent on the amendment to the draft law, but UTJ stressed at the time that this was not an explicit demand that could endanger the stability of the coalition.
However, matters changed on Wednesday, with the party stating that its backing of the state budget entirely hinged on the fate of the draft law.
The UTJ is seeking to rapidly ram the bill through the Knesset in order to obtain, for the first time, official state recognition of Torah studies, in addition to stipulating that Torah studies be mandatory. In doing so, the bill would elevate the status of students of Torah to being equal to that of IDF conscripts.
The bill is intended to circumvent a decision by the High Court of Justice, which stipulated that the current parameters of the law had to be changed, ordering the Knesset to pass a more equal law.
The ruling canceled an amendment ratified by the Knesset almost two years ago to the Conscription Law, which lowered the annual quota on the number of Haredim required to draft into the IDF.
The new bill proposal, therefore, is an attempt by the UTJ party to bypass the decision and leave the current situation unaltered.
Aware of the sensitivity of the matter, which has been an ongoing polarizing issue in Israeli society, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu warned UTJ that the potential fallout outweighed the positive results caused by catalyzing the legislative procedure.
In addition, the Likud party is concerned that the bill would play into the hands of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which may launch a rigorous campaign against it. This, the party fears, would only engender further embitterment among the secular members of the public who demand an equal sharing of the burden in military service.
"The Haredim continue their threats regarding the draft dodging law, because they now know they could make Netanyahu cave on anything," Lapid said on Wednesday evening. "The defense minister did well to decisively come out against the legislation. Now is the true test of (Education Minister) Bennett and (Finance Minister) Kahlon to stop the extortion. You cannot trample over everything that is holy to the secular, religious and traditional public in the State of Israel in the name of political survival."