Haredi MKs angered by Likud embrace of Keshev

UTJ: We will quit gov't if PM joins Plesner's push for haredim to join IDF; Shas party holds fire, open to compromise.

July 8, 2012 20:13
4 minute read.
Eli Yishai

Eli Yishai 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Haredi MKs reacted angrily on Sunday to the decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud to draw up legislation for drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students into the army based on the recommendations of MK Yohanan Plesner and the Keshev Committee.

Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz agreed on Sunday that Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), Plesner (Kadima) and Mofaz himself would head a special working group to draft universal service legislation based on the Keshev Committee’s recommendations.

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Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said in response that if Netanyahu wants to abandon the partnership between Likud and the haredi factions, then those factions will look for political partnership elsewhere.

UTJ lawmakers and party officials have hinted heavily over the past few weeks that if the prime minister were to pass legislation dramatically altering the status of full time yeshiva students, the party would not join a Likud-led coalition after the next election.

A UTJ source told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night that the party would in all likelihood quit the coalition if the Plesner recommendations were adopted.

“In that event, the leading rabbis will most likely tell us to leave the coalition,” the official said.

“We feel betrayed by Netanyahu; he didn’t inform us that he was bringing the recommendations to the Likud faction for approval, and established the Mofaz- Ya’alon-Plesner working group without coordination [with us] as well.

“He’s proved you can’t believe a word he says,” the UTJ man fumed.

Official comment from the Shas Party, which has expressed greater inclination to compromise on the terms of new legislation, was not forthcoming, although party officials were pessimistic about the possibility of agreement on the issue.

A source within Shas told the Post that it seems the prime minister had chosen Kadima over them because of the heightened expectations of the Israeli public and politicians following Saturday night’s protest Tel Aviv in favor of draft reform.

“It doesn’t look like we’re going in a good direction. We tried to find a compromise which both the secular and haredi public could live with, but now it seems the prime minister is going against us,” the Shas official said on Sunday evening.

“It’s sad that instead of adopting a compromise which could have led to thousands of haredim going into the army, they will pass a law which won’t have any effect at all,” he continued, adding that if Plesner’s recommendations were adopted in full, only the extreme voices in the haredi community would be heard.

Both Shas and UTJ object to the principle of fines against individuals refusing to perform military or national service, as well as high targets for the enlistment of yeshiva students, both of which the Plesner recommendations mandate.

Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) said last week that the less severe personal sanctions recommended by Plesner, involving the withdrawal of certain welfare benefits for refusing to serve, might be tolerable, although elements within UTJ expressed opposition to these also.

It is thought, however, that if Netanyahu can prevent Shas, with its 11 MKs, from leaving the coalition he will be less concerned with any actions UTJ, which has five lawmakers, might take.

The source said that Shas was waiting to see what transpired from the discussions of the Mofaz-Ya’alon-Plesner working group before speaking about possible political steps.

“But this is beyond a political issue,” he added. “It’s a social question, and it looks like we’re heading for a clash between haredi and secular society.

“Maybe there are moderates in the secular leadership speaking up, but they can’t be heard now because of the extremists, and this will happen with the haredim too.”

Spiritual leader and ultimate authority of the Shas movement Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said on Saturday night, during his weekly Torah lesson, that the three-four week summer break between yeshiva semesters should be canceled because of the threat to Torah study the possible new arrangements posed to the yeshiva world.

“We are right now in great trouble,” Yosef said. “There are people who want to reduce the honor of the Torah, to reduce the study of Torah and to reduce [the numbers of those who] toil in the Torah,” he continued.

“We are surrounded by those who hate us, Iran, Hezbollah...

Who will save us from their hands?” Yosef asked, because “the youth of Israel exist only in the merit of the Torah.

“Only the Torah will save us... and therefore we will be in great trouble if, God forbid, they will reduce the numbers of those toiling in Torah,” he said.

Yosef instructed that morning and afternoon prayers be concluded with a special prayer said usually on fast days and during the 10 days of penitence of the Jewish calendar.

Sources close to Yosef have said recently that the Shas spiritual leader understands that there will be significant changes, but is nevertheless adamant that everything be done “to minimize the damage to the Torah world.”

Following Yosef’s call on Saturday night, the Shas Party reported that at least two yeshivas had announced that they would cancel the summer break for their students.

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