Haredi draft bill advanced in Knesset despite threats made by Litzman

"We cannot agree to any law that will limit the study of Torah in any way," Litzman said in the Knesset plenum on Monday.

July 3, 2018 02:14
3 minute read.
Haredi draft bill advanced in Knesset despite threats made by Litzman

Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, June 3, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Knesset voted 63 to 37 late Monday night to advance a controversial bill to draft Yeshiva (Jewish religious schools) students.

Following the vote Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the "responsibility" of the Knesset and expressed hope that it would soon be passed into law without being amended.

United Torah Judaism leader Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman vowed to fight the bill, saying that: "Over the course of generations Jews gave up their souls for the Torah".

The debate stormed for three and a half hours, way past midnight.

Leader of Labor and the Zionist Camp Avi Gabbay called the Haredi draft bill an "Isra-bluff" and stated on social media on Monday night that "instead of fighting for the soldiers...[Yesh Atid chairman Yair] Lapid caved in to political deals with Lieberman and the Haredi camp."

Gabbay went on to blame Lapid that he abandoned the values of "our camp" to save the Netanyahu administration.

Gabbay claimed that when his party will arrive to power, it will look after soldiers.   

Litzman threatened to leave the coalition if the haredi draft bill passes three readings and is voted into law.

"We cannot agree to any law that will limit the study of Torah in any way," Litzman said in the Knesset plenum on Monday.

Adding: "United Torah Judaism will vote against the new draft law," he confirmed: "Don't think for a second that we will change our position because Lapid is in favor of it."

Despite Litzman's opposition, the law was scheduled to pass in its first reading late Monday night, with support from opposition party Yesh Atid, and despite the refusal of the haredi parties to vote in favor of the bill.

Although the law includes financial sanctions against the yeshiva budget if enlistment targets are not met, United Torah Judaism and Shas are willing to live with the law because the terms are relatively soft and final passage will take the issue off the table during the next elections.

It also guarantees the ability of haredi yeshiva students to continue studying in yeshiva if they so wish, instead of enlisting, before the September deadline set by the High Court of Justice for passing a new law is reached.

As such, UTJ and Shas decided to allow the bill to pass its first reading and not topple the government, since they believe it to be a satisfactory resolution, at least in the short term, and hope to amend it in committee before its third and final reading.

The enlistment bill stipulates annual enlistment targets which increase every year for ten years, and financial sanctions in the form of steadily increasing reductions to the budget for haredi yeshivas should enlistment targets not be met.

If targets are not met for three years in a row, then the law will be voided and obligatory enlistment would be incumbent on all haredi men.

However, the financial sanctions will not take effect in the first two years of the law’s lifetime, and the law will only be voided if targets are not met in the three years after that.

In addition, the Knesset will have 12 months to legislate a new law should this law be voided, meaning that this clause serves practically no deterrent effect since obligatory conscription would only happen six years from now, leaving plenty of time to alter the legal situation.

Despite the lenient terms of the legislation, Yesh Atid and its chairman MK Yair Lapid who have campaigned strongly to draft haredi men into the IDF, support the bill, claiming that the clause voiding the bill after failure to meet the targets amounts to the criminal sanctions the party included in its 2014 law.

Speaking at the Yesh Atid Knesset faction meeting, Lapid said that the draft law was “a good bill for the State of Israel” and that it was needed “to heal our society, to explain to our children why they serve and others do not,” and said that the party would not engage in politics over this issue.

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