Coalition tensions brewing over haredi military exemption law

Disputes over the military service of haredim are threatening to weaken the governing coalition.

September 15, 2017 03:26
3 minute read.
Haredi extermists protest against recruitment of Orthodox men into the army.

Haredi extermists protest against recruitment of Orthodox men into the army. . (photo credit: HAREDI EXTREMISTS PROTESTS GROUP)


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The government coalition appears to be headed for trouble over the issue of haredi enlistment to the IDF, with Kulanu indicating that it will not tolerate efforts by the ultra-Orthodox parties to insert an override clause into new legislation to prevent the High Court of Justice from intervening once again.

United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman said Wednesday his party would insert just such an override clause in new legislation to restore the government’s ability to grant mass exemptions from military service to haredi yeshiva students, adding that Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon had agreed to the idea during coalition negotiations should it be required Senior Kulanu MK Roy Folkman told The Jerusalem Post he did not recall any such commitment, denounced attacks on the High Court as dangerous and harmful to the country and called for “serious” and meaningful legislation on the haredi-enlistment issue.

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Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman also has said he opposes an override clause, suggesting that the government faces a rough ride in the coming Knesset session when dealing with the fallout of the High Court’s decision to strike down the law that allows mass haredi exemptions from military service.

Folkman told the Post on Thursday that the 2015 legislation struck down by the High Court on Tuesday was poor and incoherent policy that the court had rightly determined to be unreasonable; he accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of evading responsibility for actually dealing with the knotty issue by allowing the law to pass in the first place.

“The legislation was made in a bad way, and quite often the prime minister doesn’t want to confront the hard issues such as enlistment, conversion and other religion and state issues, and instead of making a decision we pass the ball onward. That’s what happened,” said Folkman.

The MK added that he did not believe the haredi parties would ultimately insist on an override clause, but was non-committal when asked how Kulanu would respond if they do. He did, however, tell Army Radio earlier on Thursday that “an override clause would not happen on our watch.”

Folkman said he believed the coalition could begin a dialogue on serious, substantive legislation that provides answers to the High Court’s concerns with the lack of equality inherent in the current situation.

“We want to help integrate the haredim into the army in a reasonable manner while preserving the principle of yeshiva study exemptions to some extent,” he said.

“I expect the prime minister and other coalition members to bring about serious solutions for serious issues and not to just find excuses by throwing responsibility onto the court.”

Speaking on Wednesday to Yisrael Beytenu activists, Liberman made similar comments, saying the High Court decision was an opportunity to correct “injustices” in the lack of draft equality, and saying it would be “a mistake to talk about an override clause, we need to talk about real change.”

While tensions emerge in the coalition over the haredi enlistment conundrum, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is ramping up pressure on the government, and promised to bring the public out to the streets against any attempt to circumvent the High Court.

“The haredim, at least, believe in something. Netanyahu and the ministers have already made it clear they believe in nothing, they simply want to protect the coalition,” Lapid told Yediot Aharonot on Thursday.

“Now, either they will need to legislate a law similar to ours, or the government will fall,” he continued, referring to the coalition tensions.

“If there is an attempt to legislate a law circumventing the High Court, we will flood the streets,” he threatened, while calling on Liberman to stand by his demands and promises for draft equality.

Separately, a meeting between embattled Shas MK Yigal Gueta and Deputy Knesset Speaker Nava Boker scheduled for Thursday in which the Shas lawmaker was set to submit his resignation did not transpire.

Gueta sent a letter of resignation to Shas chairman Arye Deri after coming under pressure from prominent rabbis to stand down as a Shas MK for having spoken on the radio about attending the wedding of a gay nephew two years ago with his wife and family.

A meeting has now been scheduled for Sunday morning between Gueta and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who is returning from abroad, although efforts are still afoot within the Shas Council of Torah Sages to formulate a way in which Gueta can keep his seat while apologizing for having publicly discussed the wedding.

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