Serious obstacles were put up on Thursday to the possibility that Yesh Atid and
Shas could sit together in the next government.
Shas co-chairman Arye
Deri said on Thursday that Yesh Atid’s plan for increasing haredi enlistment in
national service “will not be established and will never
Speaking on haredi radio station Kol Berama, Deri said the party
was willing to increase the number of haredim enlisting but was opposed to
establishing quotas for the number of yeshiva students able to receive
exemptions for full-time study.
But Yesh Atid incoming MK Ofer Shelah, No.
6 on the party’s electoral list, told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that his
party would be insisting on the full implementation of its plan for haredi
enlistment into national service.
“Full implementation of our plan for
haredi enlistment is a condition for us sitting in government, 100 percent,”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s plan for increasing the haredi
draft, however, allows for only 1,000 exceptional Torah scholars to be exempt
from army service, a figure which is almost certainly unacceptable to Shas, and
full enlistment for all other male 18-year-olds into military or national
There are currently approximately 45,000 full-time haredi
yeshiva students, who until August received an automatic exemption from military
service because of their religious studies, while approximately 7,000 haredi men
turn 18 every year.
A Shas official close to Deri reiterated on Thursday
that the party was not opposed to increasing the number of haredim enlisting in
“The opposite is true, but what’s important is it’s not done
forcefully or coercively,” the source said.
Shas’s position on the issue,
which will be at the top of the agenda when serious coalition negotiations get
underway next week, is frequently expressed by its leaders as “whoever is
learning will continue to learn, and whoever is not learning should enlist,” but
this stance has never been clearly defined.
In an interview with the Post
just before Tuesday’s general election, Deri’s fellow Shas cochairman Ariel
Attias refused to discuss the details of the party’s demands regarding haredi
national service enlistment, or define what is meant by “whoever is not
“It’s a definition to be expounded on in the legislation, it’s
not a definition for a newspaper,” said Attias, who served in the outgoing
Knesset as construction and housing minister.
On Wednesday night, Deri
reiterated that the party “would not tear a yeshiva student away from his study
lectern,” but added that “haredim who aren’t studying need to be provided with
appropriate tracks in the army and civilian service.”
It is widely
believed that many thousands of those enrolled in full-time study do not
actually fulfill their commitments, although precise figures are not
The movement’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said just
before the election that yeshiva students should leave the country rather than
According to an estimate by Prof. Yedidia Stern of the Israel
Democracy Institute, approximately 60% of haredi students would chose to leave
yeshiva and enter the workforce if allowed to do so.
Those who do not
fulfill their quota of study hours are believed to work in undeclared employment
and take care of children at home when not in yeshiva, Stern said, among other
Approximately 61% of haredi women are employed,
requiring that either their husband supervise the children during the day, or
that they be placed in daycare.
Yesh Atid’s plan for universal service
provides for an initial five-year blanket exemption for all haredi 18-year olds
from military service, enabling them to join the work force, during which time
the army and civilian service would prepare for the absorption of large numbers
of haredi recruits into tracks designed specifically for their
After the five-year period, all 18-year-old males from then on
would be required to enlist, apart from 1,000 exceptional Torah scholars, and
those who refuse to serve “would forfeit all government funding and benefits
with the exception of basic social security.”
Although these terms would
be hard for Shas to accept, the party source said that the leadership believed
an understanding could be reached.
“The campaign is over now and so are
the slogans,” he said.
“Everyone needs to compromise, but where there’s a
will there’s a way.”
The source refused to comment, however, on
speculation that Shas would request a free vote from coalition discipline in the
negotiations on any government- proposed legislation on haredi
Regarding the general chances of forming a coalition between
Shas and Yesh Atid, the official said argued that “Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu] likes to be in the center of his coalition, politically speaking, so
it suits him to be between Lapid and Shas on matters of religion and
Aside from the issue of haredi enlistment, Attias expressed to
the Post fervent opposition to any change in the religious status quo – in what
was a generally hostile interview.
The minister reiterated Shas’s policy
that it would work against the operation of public transport on Shabbat in the
coming Knesset, saying that the symbol of the Jewish day of rest was vital to
the State of Israel.
“You can’t come and say that a symbol angers
people,” Attias said, when asked whether the party was concerned about the
negative image of haredi parties in the eyes of the broader public.
don’t tell a person how to live, everyone carries out their lives however he
wants to. People live in their private domains, and also in the public space,
however they want.
“Public transport is the transport of the state, the
state subsidizes it, it operates it, and it’s a symbol. Today it’s public
transport; tomorrow it will be government offices [that are open],” Attias
The day before the election, Yosef once again emphasized the
party’s devotion to preserving the status of yeshiva students.
“We are in
[due to] these secular people who hate the Torah, who
want to draft the yeshiva students who learn Torah day and night and give
pleasure to God,” he said. “I am greatly pained by this matter.”