Haredi parties have locked horns with members of the coalition ever since the High Court of Justice (HCJ) made a majority ruling at the end of 2017 canceling an amendment to the Conscription Law ratified by the Knesset which lowered the annual quota on the number of Haredim required to draft into the IDF.
The original amendment to the Conscription Law, which was spearheaded by Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapid when his party was part of Netanyahu’s previous coalition, constituted a major breakthrough in bringing Haredim into the military by setting an annual quota for Haredi conscripts, setting in motion a remedy to an issue that has long been a point of contention in Israel.
However, it also exposed a gaping hole in the unity of the current government, with coalition partners at odds with each other on the extent to which yeshiva students should be required to draft into the IDF.
In a letter written to Netanyahu by heads of the United Torah Judaism party (UTJ), together with party leader Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the prime minister was sternly reminded of his commitment in March as part of the deal struck to avert early elections to expedite the legislative process on the issue within 30 days of the commencement of the Knesset’s summer session.
The ultra-Orthodox leaders also noted that the expiration of that obligation was fast approaching.
“Despite your many troubles, we ask that you direct your attention to the most important and fundamental issue to us,” Litzman wrote in the letter co-authored by UTJ MK Moshe Gafni.
“We are now concluding three years since your government was formed. As you know, during the coalition negotiations between UTJ and the Likud, we set out a central issue, without which we would not have been part of this coalition, and that is the regulation of the status of yeshiva students vis-a-vis conscription,” the letter continued.
The missive also pointed out that as part of the coalition agreement, Netanyahu committed to ensuring that the government “will act in the Jewish state so that there would be no quota for those who study Torah.”
The HCJ’s 2017 ruling stated that the current conscription bill will be nullified this coming September. The current bill ensured a special status for yeshiva students.
Haredim are demanding to promptly approve an alternative bill that meets both their and the court's conditions.
“During the latter part of the winter session, it was agreed that within 30 days from the commencement of the (current) summer session, the legislative processes would be continued with the aim of creating final and consistent legislation, including all Knesset readings, that will regulate the above,” Gafni and Litzman wrote. “It should be noted that these 30 days are coming to an end in the coming days.”
Concluding the letter, the two political leaders issued a tacit warning that Netanyahu’s failure to deliver on his pledge could result in their withdrawal from the government—a move that would likely necessitate early elections.
“If it was not for the clause in the coalition agreement on the status of the yeshiva students, we would not have been partners in the coalition, and that is also our directive for the future,” the letter read. “We sincerely hope that what was promised will indeed be delivered and we look forward to your response.”