Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman attacked the ultra-Orthodox parties on Thursday evening over a crisis of their making that is threatening the stability of the coalition, calling them a "group of extremist elements."
United Torah Judaism has threatened not to support the 2019 state budget unless an IDF conscription bill, which would solicit state recognition of Torah studies to being equal to military service, is brought for a vote and passed in the Knesset first.
"In recent days, the people of Israel have been taken hostage by a group of extremist elements. They're threatening to drag all of us to unnecessary elections, in a complex security reality, and demand that we give in to their extortion, or they would dismantle the right-wing government. We must not and we will not allow that to happen," Lieberman said.
Coalition ministers have begun drawing up a possible compromise deal in a bid to resolve the ongoing crisis. The ministers are hoping that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) would bring the compromise to the party's Council of Torah Sages for approval.
"The one who set the 'three readings' ultimatum to begin with (Litzman), he's the one responsible for the dismantling of the right-wing government! We did not start this crisis," Lieberman accused. "Yisrael Beytenu is a loyal partner in the right-wing government, but we will not give up on our guiding principles: Security and responsibility. We won't negotiate with a gun to our heads."
He went on to say that "when it comes to enlistment, the defense establishment and the IDF are the one who would determine (what happens), not the Haredi parties. It is inconceivable for such a significant bill proposal, which deals with the very heart of the people's army and Israeli society, is dependent on the Council of Torah Sages alone, and the IDF is not even being asked about it. It is absurd. It is a national irresponsibility."
The defense minister spoke about the special team his ministry established to prepare the amendment to the draft law. "This is the best thing for the IDF and the people of Israel, let the team work! It's right for the IDF, it's right for the Haredim, it's right for Israeli society," he said.
Lieberman noted his Yisrael Beytenu party "has foregone its agenda in advance and has committed to accept the plan being formulated by the Defense Ministry's team."
"A disagreement that has been accompanying the State of Israel from the day of its establishment will not be resolved with coercion and extortion, in one week," he added.
He stressed that he "doesn't want elections. It's important for governments in Israel to serve until the end of the term, but I have a responsibility to Israel's security and to the IDF, and I'm not willing to compromise on these principles."
In response, Shas MK Ya’akov Margi criticized Lieberman, saying "The head of the smallest party in the coalition, who got the defense minister's role with no justification with regards to the size and importance of his party, launches an attack bordering on anti-Semitism on the Haredi parties in an effort to gather votes. Sad and disturbing!"