Deep divides were exposed between coalition factions on Wednesday over the terms
of legislation being formulated to raise the number of ultra-Orthodox men in
Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz is continuing to
insist on a stringent law with sharp penalties against those who do not serve,
while the haredi Knesset factions remain deeply opposed to any coercive measures
and are warning that any such law will be impossible to implement on the
Both United Torah Judaism and Shas expressed vehement opposition
on Wednesday to any imposition of maximum quotas for the number of yeshiva
students who are able to receive exemptions from military service, a key
component of the current proposals, as well as to proposed financial sanctions
on individuals who do not serve.
Penalties such as the cancellation of
housing benefits and municipal tax breaks, which many members of the haredi
community receive, are crucial, they say, to the implementation of any
legislation seeking to dramatically increase the number of haredim serving in
the army or national service.
In spite of their opposition to current
proposals, neither Shas nor UTJ are threatening to exit the coalition, telling
Channel 10 news that they won’t give Kadima the pleasure of them
A source within Kadima told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “must choose between the haredim and those who
serve, and he has every reason to go with those who serve.”
“It is not
good for Bibi [Netanyahu] to go to elections as the defender of the haredim,” he
Despite Kadima’s implicit threat to leave the coalition if its
terms are not met, a source close to Netanyahu stated on Wednesday night that
all efforts are being made to convince Mofaz to compromise “in order to avoid
elections that could destroy Kadima.”
The same source also stated that ministers
voting against the final bill would not be fired from the government, providing
a way for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to oppose the legislation,
which he will certainly do, while remaining in the coalition.
to the official, Netanyahu believes he will be able to form a majority to pass a
compromise bill through the Knesset, which Likud, Kadima and Defense Minister
Ehud Barak’s Independence party will all support.
The prime minister is
attempting to convince Kadima to drop the idea of financial sanctions against
individuals and instead legislate economic penalties against yeshivot which do
not live up to quotas for national-service recruits.
According to sources
close to the prime minister, he believes that the possibility exists that Shas and Kadima
might be convinced to agree to this kind of framework.
Although a law
could technically be passed in Knesset mandating financial sanctions, obligatory
national service for all and quotas for yeshiva students, haredi factions are
warning that any such law would be completely ineffective and
“The rabbis and yeshiva deans will simply not allow
18- year-old boys to go to the army,” a senior source in UTJ told the Post. “It
will be impossible to implement such a law.”
He continued: “There is a
problem on the ground here, not just a political issue, because the yeshiva
students simply won’t go, so what will be the point of legislation like this if
it doesn’t lead to more haredim going to the army?” He added that there is
little likelihood of bridging the gaps between what is acceptable to the haredi
parties and what Kadima is demanding.
“Unless Bibi [Netanyahu] pulls a
rabbit out of his hat, it’s hard to see how a compromise can reached,” he
The ultra-Orthodox MKs who are engaged in the negotiations with the
prime minister on the issue, led by Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe
Gafni, are believed to be open to finding ways to increase the numbers of
haredim enlisting into military or national service, but not to an obligatory
draft that prevents yeshiva students from studying full-time.
official said these numbers could be made up by haredi youth who are enrolled in
yeshiva to gain a draft exemption but not actually studying there. Although the
haredi factions would still not vote for such a law, they could be convinced to
live with it, he said.
According to Gen. Elazar Stern, former head of the
IDF Manpower Directorate, there are at least 10,000 such yeshiva students who
could be drafted, out of a total of approximately 54,000 full-time yeshiva
students who indefinitely defer their national service under the terms of the
“At the end of the day, [MK Yohanan] Plesner and the committee
can sit and deliberate as much as they like, what’s important is what agreement
can be made between the prime minister and the haredi factions,” the UTJ