Lapid threatens to quit gov't over haredi draft row

Ya'alon, Yesh Atid clash on criminal sanctions for draft-dodgers.

Yair Lapid at Cabinet Meeting, looking official 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yair Lapid at Cabinet Meeting, looking official 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid threatened Monday to withdraw his faction from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition in the event that the Likud-led government fails to approve new legislation mandating conscription for the ultra-Orthodox.
Yesh Atid and Likud-Beytenu ministers failed to agree on final draft legislation for drafting haredi men into national service in a meeting of the Peri Committee which ended early Monday morning.
Yesh Atid supports criminal sanctions for haredi draft-dodgers while Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon of Likud opposes such sanctions.
"We won't sit in a government that doesn't pass [a bill requiring] an equal sharing of the national burden," said Lapid, who holds the position of finance minister. "There will be equality in the burden or this government will break apart."
Lapid told Yesh Atid deputies in the Knesset on Monday that the Likud was guilty of "hurting Zionism and the IDF" by objecting to criminal sanctions against those who failed to report for the draft. He called on Likud to "stop playing this game [which] prevents a historic injustice from being fixed."
Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid party swept into parliament in this last election vowing to push through legislation that would end the decades-long exemption from military service that has been extended to tens of thousands of religious Jews enrolled in yeshivas.
"If anyone thinks that I entered politics just to solve the economic catastrophe left by the previous government, they're mistaken," the former newscaster said.
In response, Likud posited that Yesh Atid was overreacting to distract from the criticism Lapid has received over his budget proposal.
Likud sources said a compromise could have been reached with Yesh Atid Minister Yaakov Peri, the committee's chairman, but he left the room, and after talking to Lapid, said that the Yesh Atid leader would not allow him to compromise on the issue.
The Likud sources claimed that "it's Yesh Atid violating the coalition agreement not Ya'alon. There won't be a coalition crisis unless Yesh Atid wants one."
Likud Deputy Minister Ophir Akunis called on Yesh Atid to "stop the political spin, the election is over," in an Israel Radio interview.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday downplayed infighting within his coalition over the contents of draft legislation to increase haredi enlistment.
Speaking at a Likud Beytenu faction meeting, Netanyahu said, "After 65 years, we stand before a historic change that will go a long way toward equalizing the burden. Until the new law is applied, we will see many more headlines and crises, both imagined and real."
Netanyahu added: "I am sure we can find solutions to the isolated clauses which remain unresolved. There will be a law."
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett also downplayed the crisis in an Army Radio interview on Monday morning, stating that the coalition members "agree on more than we disagree."
"No one wants to see police conduct mass arrests on Bnei Brak but we want there to be enough incentives for haredim to serve. We will meet and find a solution. I am very optimistic."
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich on Monday slammed the government's efforts to draft new legislation for incorporating haredim into national service, saying "there will be enlistment of fewer haredim with more headlines."
Speaking at a Labor Party faction meeting, Yacimovich called coalition infighting between Likud and Yesh Atid over elements of the haredi draft bill, "a battle of spin."
"Everyone in this government is too busy with politics and arm-twisting to notice that all of the goals they set for themselves are falling by the wayside," Yacimovich said.
"The enlistment of haredim, as things appear now, will completely fall apart," she added.  
Head of Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman responded to the Peri Committee recomendations on his Facebook page, writing that the proposal to draft haredim at the age of 21 was untenable because by that age many of these inductees would be married with children and the IDF would have no real use for them and would also not be able to afford these soldiers from a budgetary standpoint.  
Liberman also wrote that he expects the Arab minority to share in the state burden.
"Clearly we don't expect that Arab youth will be drafted into the airforce or navy commando units, but we expect that they take part in frameworks such as fire fighting, police and the police or educational sectors," Liberman wrote.