Haredi man and IDF soldiers in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has underlined once again that he does not support a legal obligation on haredi men to serve in the IDF that was approved by the outgoing government, and says he will change the law in the coming government.
Speaking to the haredi Radio Kol Hai station on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said a clause in the law for haredi conscription, which was approved in March 2014 and would impose a possible two-year jail term on haredi men refusing to enlist, had been forced upon him by his coalition partners and he had never agreed to it.
“Unfortunately, the results of the [last] election forced upon us the conditions that were dictated to us regarding partnership with the haredi parties,” Netanyahu began, regarding Yesh Atid’s insistence that Shas and United Torah Judaism be excluded from the outgoing government.
“Everyone knows it wasn’t our choice, and everyone also knows that we oppose the idea of criminal sanctions – that a Jew should sit in prison for learning Torah – and we will change this as I have already declared many times,” Netanyahu said.
The majority of haredi men of military draft age study in yeshiva for several years, and the haredi leadership insists that anyone who wants to continue with his religious studies should be allowed to do so without having to perform military service.
Netanyahu, when asked why the haredi parties had been excluded from the outgoing government, hinted strongly that he would bring them into the next government.
“The haredi parties always remained in my eyes natural partners, and all leaders of the haredi public know this fact,” the prime minister said. “I intend to implement this. We had a temporary setback that was forced upon us, but we can fix this in the coming elections. We need to fix it.”
Netanyahu also ruled out a unity government with the Zionist Union, saying there was “an ideological chasm” between the Likud, on the one hand, and Labor and Hatnua leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, on the other. He pointed to the latter’s condemnation of construction beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.
“There’s no chance for [a unity government],” Netanyahu said.
Labor MK and former party chairwoman Shelley Yachimovich spoke immediately after Netanyahu on the same radio show, claiming that she was the first person Netanyahu called after the 2013 election, and noting that the first party he brought in to his coalition government had been Livni’s Hatnua.
The prime minister’s “promises today have no connection to reality,” Yachimovich said.
“The day after the election, Netanyahu didn’t call the haredi parties but rather me and Tzipi Livni,” she continued. “A recommendation by the haredi parties [that President Reuven Rivlin turn to] Herzog [to form a coalition] is the more natural and correct thing to do.”
Netanyahu’s comments on reversing the criminal sanctions clause of the conscription law generated outrage from Yesh Atid MKs, particularly lawmaker Ofer Shelah, who led the drive for imposing on haredi men a legal obligation to perform military service, as exists for all other Jewish men of military age.
Shelah said Netanyahu had frequently acted as the emissary of the haredi parties.
“Obligatory service is the heart of the law, not only because it renews the value of equality,” he said, noting that the law had also forced the military to dedicate more resources to drafting haredi men, which, he claimed, had led to an increase in haredi enlistment.
Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, a haredi rabbi, also heavily criticized the prime minister, saying his comments showed he was willing to reverse all progress made on the issue of haredi enlistment.
“I hope this makes it clear to all potential Likud voters that Prime Minister Netanyahu will undo the progress we have made over the last two years regarding the integration of the haredim into Israeli society,” Lipman said. “Now it is not mere speculation. He is saying it outright.”
The MK also criticized Labor for its ready willingness to enter into a coalition with the haredi parties, slamming them for failing to vote in favor of the conscription law when it was brought for its final reading in the Knesset.
“They [Labor MKs] stayed out of the room along with the haredi parties and did not vote for the Equality in National Service Law,” Lipman complained. “We believe that in a heartbeat they will form a coalition with the haredim and give them whatever they want – regarding the draft law, the conversion law, general studies in haredi schools and more.... The only thing which will prevent turning back the clock on the progress regarding the haredi issues is a strong Yesh Atid.”