(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Early elections could be forced on the coalition by a Supreme Court decision in a case that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit told ministers in Sunday’s cabinet meeting is doomed to fail, political sources said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government asked the Supreme Court for a four-month extension to pass the controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment bill. The court has asked the government and Yesh Atid, which filed the initial petition against the previous draft bill, to submit their views on the issue by Thursday.
Mandelblit told the ministers that a further extension could not be requested, because the government has already received a three month extension in August to pass a new law by Sunday, December 2. Netanyahu accepted Mandelblit’s ruling, but Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked persuaded ministers to request the extension anyway.
Legal experts said the government’s appeal made the Sunday deadline no longer relevant. The experts noted that the deadline’s passing would make the government in violation of the law, if yeshiva students are not drafted en masse. However, the court cannot force Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, to abide by the law or initiate an election to avoid implementing it.
The government cited the November 16 resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman as its reason for seeking the extension. But Likud ministers and MKs have admitted in closed conversations that Netanyahu has no majority for the bill and cannot pass it.
Liberman said the Court should not extend the deadline by even an hour. He said Netanyahu had a majority to pass the bill immediately but would refrain from doing so, due to his interest of not angering haredim who oppose the law.
“Political survival does not justify harming the security of the state or the sensitivities of Israeli society,” Liberman said.
Lapid said Netanyahu is “once again surrendering from the haredim and fleeing from the Supreme Court.” He added that Liberman’s resignation was not connected to the bill. The current bill passed a first reading in July and sets annual targets for haredi enlistment, which increase every year for 10 years, and financial sanctions that reduce the budget for haredi yeshivot each year that enlistment targets are not met.
UTJ and Shas objected strongly to the principle of the sanctions, while the rabbis of Agudat Yisrael have expressed strong opposition to a clause stipulating that the law would automatically be annulled if enlistment targets are not met for three years in a row.
The narrow coalition of 61 MKs will face another test related to matters of religion and state on Wednesday, when Meretz and Yesh Atid propose a bill regarding the rights of municipalities to enable stores to remain open on Shabbat. The bill has the support of multiple coalition MKs, who may have to vote against their conscience and oppose it.
Netanyahu temporarily defused another problem of his security cabinet – having too many ministers. The security cabinet must have no more than half the number of ministers who are in the full cabinet. The departure of Liberman and former immigrant absorption minister Sofa Landver resulted in the cabinet having one too many.
Netanyahu decided that ministers Yuval Steinitz and Ze’ev Elkin will alternate monthly as security cabinet voting members and serve as observers during the other month.
Yesh Atid faction head Ofer Shelah said the decision makes a mockery of the security cabinet and Elkin and Steinitz should not have agreed to it.Jeremy Sharon, Yonah Jeremy Bob and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.