Meanwhile, the special committee for regulating the status of yeshiva students convened Tuesday morning at the Knesset for its first meeting, led by Coalition Chairman David Amsalem.
The reason the Haredi parties are playing both sides stems primarily from internal struggles. Both Shas and United Torah Judaism are dealing with a loud opposition, Shas in the Sephardic camp and UTJ in the Ashkenazi camp, as leading rabbis and public activists are presenting the draft law to the public as a destruction of the world of Torah.
Consequently, the Haredi public's representatives in the Knesset are seen as collaborators who should be denounced. Some say Shas and UTJ have accepted the bill for personal political reasons, while others believe they have been religiously "spoiled" and have adopted a compromising ideology accepting yeshiva students' enlistment and treating it with forgiveness.
Haredi politicians Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni and Aryeh Deri are convinced a few legal and political tricks would facilitate a plan that, on the one hand, won’t force any student to leave the yeshiva to meet the enlistment targets, and on the other hand, would be approved by the High Court of Justice as a plan furthering an equal share of the burden.
The current proposal, they believe, could achieve that target after undergoing minor alternations, which is why they have been working for its approval. The Shas and UTJ leaders are backed by their rabbis, but are forced to play both sides so as not to bolster the radicals. Behind the scenes they will ensure that the bill will be advanced, as the lesser of two evils, but they will openly vote against it so as not to be accused of a "willingness to compromise," a pretty harsh derogatory term on the Haredi street.
The messages they are voicing within the sector to their voters are even more stringent, and there—through the parties' official newspapers—they will blast the law and claim to have done everything in their power to thwart it.
The Yated Ne'eman newspaper, which is affiliated with MK Gafni and the Lithuanian faction, wrote in its main headline Tuesday: "Despite the painful and firm protest of the Haredi Knesset members, the deferral bill passed its first reading." Gafni, like the rest of the Haredi lawmakers, voted against the bill.
According to the newspaper, "In a painful Knesset speech, Gafni said: 'The reality is that we are a country which has succeeded in surviving economically thanks to those who study Torah, in spite of the security threats. Without Torah study, we won't exist. No other nation has gone through so much persecution. The Jews all over the world speak the same language and say Shema Israel. That was our inheritance, and thanks to it we returned to this land and thanks to it we exist."
MK Michael Malchieli of Shas said in an interview at the Ynet studio Tuesday morning that "if this law were good for the Haredim, they would have supported it. The fact that the Haredim opposed is a direct indication that this law isn't good for the Haredim. There is a crisis, no one is going anywhere. The Haredi public and the Haredi parties have said that this law won't pass the way it is written."
Rabbi Netanel Cohen, who participated in protests against the draft law on Monday, said: "A real opposition to the draft law means bringing down the government and vetoing the law as (the Haredi parties) would do about anything they really care about. We didn't see that yesterday."
Alexandra Lukash and Nir Cohen contributed to this report.