UTJ Council of Torah Sages approves IDF draft bill
Meeting between PM Netanyahu, Deputy Health Minister Litzman births new agreement surrounding IDF draft bill, later approved by party's Council of Torah Sages; bill will be approved by Ministerial Legislation Committee Monday morning, go up to Knesset preliminary reading; later readings expected at Knesset's summer session, budget approval hearings to continue as planned; Defense Minister Lieberman may yet oppose agreement.
A new IDF draft bill agreement emerged from a meeting late Sunday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Torah Judaism Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, which was then approved by the party's Hasidic Torah Sages Council headed by the Gur Rebbe.
After the Council's approval, the bill will be placed on the Ministerial Legislation Committee's docket for 9am Monday–and then sent to a preliminary Knesset reading, without Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party members having to vote for it.
The bill is based on a framework put forward by Shas MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, which states that a goal will be set of 3,800 Haredi recruits joining the IDF and national service with each recruitment cycle—with their number gradually increasing.
In addition, the law will omit any sanctions or incentives, instead including an article starting that the government will inspect general draft quotas every five years and if it finds Haredi conscripts failed to meet them, the law will expire.
Despite estimates that an accord may yet to be reached with the Haredi parties, Likud remains unsure about how to solve the political crisis with Lieberman, who flatly refused to vote on bills not promulgated by a professional defense establishment committee.
Another problem that remains to be tackled is the defense minister's statements that members of his party will vote against the bill. Should Lieberman make good on this threat and vote against it himself, he will be summarily fired.
A Likud source voiced some optimism at the conclusion of Litzman's meeting with the premier. "We're trying to promote a compromise with the Haredim, but Lieberman's assent is also required," he said.
Yisrael Beytenu, meanwhile, said, "We've heard nothing concrete. The price remains to be ascertained."
Earlier Sunday, United Torah Judaism's Council of Torah Sages for the party's Hasidic faction—headed by Gur Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter—rejected the compromise proposition on the IDF draft bill sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
The Council's members instructed the Haredi MKs to continue insisting on a new bill passing all three of its readings en route to approval before voting on the state's 2019 budget. "That means simply elections," a United Torah Judaism (UTJ) source told Ynet.
"The Torah Sages' missive did not speak of any offer or legal solution floated throughout the day, but merely reiterated the demand to (pass) the draft bill before the budget—and there's nothing new there," the source added, saying a proposed bill by Shas MK Yoav Ben-Tzur was being examined and may be put forward with slight changes currently being discussed.
A letter disseminated to Haredi MKs by the Council's secretary said, "I have been asked to inform you that the Council of Torah Sages' decision to pass the yeshiva student draft bill before approving the budget has remained unchanged and that you must follow it."
The Belz Rebbe, Yissachar Dov Rokeach, patron to MK Yisrael Eichler, claimed that efforts should still be made to reach another compromise that would benefit Haredim more while skirting elections. His opinion was voted down, however, but he persisted in his efforts to sway the decision even after its publication.
The compromise floated by Shaked and Mandelblit included amending a bill already on the Ministerial Committee on Legislation's docket, put together by former Shas housing minister and current legal adviser for UTJ Ariel Atias, Shaked and Attorney General Mandelblit.
Following the Council of Torah Sages' rejection of the compromise, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened with UTJ Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman Sunday evening in a last ditch effort to resolve the crisis before elections are called.
Independent of the draft issue, UTJ MK and Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni is expected to move forward Monday on further hearing on the 2019 budget in his committee.
Justice Minister Shaked told Ynet Sunday evening, "There are solutions. One must simply want to pursue them. This crisis has three alternatives, not one—solutions both (Defense Minister Avigdor) Lieberman and the Haredim can agree to. The question is whether they want to resolve the crisis or push the country to unnecessary elections and take down a right-wing government."
Minister Shaked commented on developments at the Israel Democracy Institute's conference on 70 years of democracy and added, "Hope is not yet lost and I truly think this crisis is solvable. When you speak to all members of the coalition, everyone wants the same thing.
"I've been speaking with (coalition) party heads who think elections are unnecessary. It's not that going to elections will allow us to receive a government that's any better.
"I think taking apart this kind of government will truly be irresponsible on the part of those responsible for the breakup," the minister said, concluding by saying, "I certainly don't fear the opposition and it wouldn't be that bad to rest there for a few years."
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu met with the heads of the coalition to discuss the matter of the draft bill further. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, however, did not attend the meeting over his stated anger with the idea that the bill is being formulated by people outside of the defense establishment while UTJ Deputy Health Minister Litzman was late.
The discussions were therefore swiftly brought to an end, with Litzman and Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon called in to the prime minister's offices for a meeting. A source within the coalition claimed there were three possible solutions to the crisis surrounding the draft bill and that it could be resolved within the day, but wondered whether Netanyahu was truly interested in doing so.
"The meeting of coalition heads took place in good atmosphere. There is still no agreed-upon wording between the Haredi parties. Coalition heads are waiting for their draft and after that the discussions will continue in order to resolve the crisis," a statement by the Prime Minister's Office said.
Defense Minister Lieberman, who communicated an explicit ultimatum Friday and sent another strong message Sunday morning, intentionally avoided the meeting. A source close to the Yisrael Beytenu chief said, "He never attends the meeting of coalition party heads, because everything said there is leaked out before the door is even closed."
Coalition members have been scrapping since the morning in the media and on social networks regarding culpability for the crisis now threatening the coalition's very existence.
"Mr. Prime Minister," Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted, "as long as you act for the good of the State of Israel, we will continued to be behind you. If you bring the right-wing government down and lead us to unnecessary elections for personal aims, you will lose us."
Gabbay: 'We won't serve as pawns'
Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay sent a strong message to coalition parties Sunday when he said, "We're being offered to condition moving up elections by postponing them to September or some other far-flung date. We're not your suckers and you won't use us as pawns in political maneuvering intended to scuttle moving up elections.
"Let me be clear: we will support moving up elections to the earliest possible date."
Touching on the conduct of Finance Minister Kahlon and Education Minister Bennett, Gabbay said, "Unfortunately, (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu's coalition partners have decided that you can forego values in politics. They're fighting to preserve his rule instead of seizing the opportunity and calling elections."
"After nine years of division, incitement and hatred," Gabbay continued, "the people of Israel will be able to choose a new path and a new hope. Choosing a leadership to serve them rather than itself, that preserves the institutions of government and law enforcement rather than attacks them."