The existing Israeli Defense Service Law expired in September after the High Court of Justice deemed it unconstitutional, meaning that the Knesset was obliged to pass an alternative law before then. However, the court granted the government a four-month extension, meaning the legislation would have to have been approved by January 15, had the Knesset not been dissolved.
According to Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu, the Netanyahu government and the ultra-Orthodox conspired to make sure the bill, once passed, would not actually be implemented. Instead, they claimed, it would either be repealed altogether or the money taken in fines from the ultra-Orthodox would be paid back to them through alternatives channels. Netanyahu's Likud Party, which heads the current coalition, denied that such a deal existed.
The proposed legislation, which was formulated by Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman and passed its first reading in the Knesset, included planned cuts to yeshiva (Jewish seminary) budgets and economic incentives to pressure the seminaries to encourage enlistment. It did not, however, include any criminal sanctions. The plan was supposed to have a two-year transition period, during which sanctions would not be imposed if the seminaries failed to meet their draft targets. In the third year, seminaries that failed to encourage enlistment would have been hit with economic sanctions if they dropped below a 95% target.
“The ultra-Orthodox were told not to worry about the financial penalties, because the money would be given back to them under the table. It’s a scam. Senior officials in the Finance Ministry were given orders to prepare compensation packages for the ultra-Orthodox parties once the bill passed,” said Lapid.
“It’s unacceptable for IDF draft dodgers to get money from the government,” Lapid said. “Netanyahu refused to promise that the ultra-Orthodox would not get compensated if the bill is passed, because he is scared of them … we’ll go to elections, after which the government that I form will pass a fair draft law.”
Yisrael Beiteinu said that the party would have still voted in favor of the bill if they had been be given assurances from the government that the law wouldn’t be repealed once passed and the ultra-Orthodox would not be financially compensated.
“The question is whether there is foul play involved and Likud has promised to the heads of the Haredi parties that they would receive compensation packages once the bill is passed,” Lieberman’s party said in a statement. Lieberman quit the government last month over the handling of the recent violence in Gaza.
“The coalition could have passed the law at the start of the Knesset's winter session but they succumbed to the pressure of the ultra-Orthodox parties and had asked for an extension,” the statement said.