Haredi political rally in Bnei Brak, March 11, 2015.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman has agreed not to advance legislation on haredi IDF enlistment, conversion reform and other issues relating to religion and state, as one of the conditions for his party joining the coalition.
His commitment comes after officials from United Torah Judaism insisted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they would only agree to Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition on such a basis.
UTJ’s coalition agreement with Likud states explicitly that the status quo on religion and state, which is broadly defined by the haredi parties, be preserved for the lifetime of the government.
Liberman has been highly critical of the current coalition for gutting the haredi enlistment law passed by the last government, as well as its repeal of reforms to the state conversion process also approved by the previous government.
He also has called haredi Judaism “a cult” on several occasions in the last 18 months; advanced a civil unions bill in the Knesset this year; and advanced a bill to reinstate the reforms of the last government abolished by the current one.
“We in Yisrael Beytenu are against a haredi state,” Liberman said during the Knesset debate over the conversion law, which was defeated.
According to a spokesperson for Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), who is negotiating the coalition agreement with Yisrael Beytenu, a governmental committee with representatives from all coalition parties will be established to coordinate on matters of religion and state that arise during the lifetime of the government.
UTJ MK Menahem Eliezer Moses said on Thursday that the party was in favor of broadening the coalition in order to create greater stability, but had insisted that Yisrael Beytenu refrain from advancing legislation that would change the religious status quo.
“We have demanded that the foundational principles of the government and our coalition agreement with Likud be honored,” Moses told The Jerusalem Post
Another concern of the haredi parties is Liberman’s stance over haredi enlistment and the ramifications of his expected appointment as defense minister.
Under the terms of an amendment passed by the current government in November, mandatory haredi enlistment to the IDF will be postponed until 2020, after which the defense minister will be entitled to continue granting exemptions to yeshiva students even if the government targets are not met.
Elements in the haredi parties have voiced concern that Liberman as defense minister would have the authority to draft haredi yeshiva students if he so wished, although Moses said this would only go into effect three years from now.
Yaakov Asher, the director of Degel Hatorah, one of the two constituent parties of the UTJ Knesset faction, said UTJ’s conditions had been made clear to Netanyahu.
He also said Yisrael Beytenu would be obliged to vote with the government on legislation pertaining to religious issues should the coalition decide to advance such laws.
In March, UTJ sponsored a bill that would circumvent a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that prohibited the practice of denying Reform and Conservative converts the use of public mikvaot.
The law passed its first reading in Knesset, although Yisrael Beytenu voted against it.
UTJ also has promised to introduce legislation in the coming Knesset session to circumvent another decision by the High Court of Justice this year, which ruled that foreign nationals who convert to Judaism through private Orthodox rabbinical courts must be given the right to citizenship.
Yesh Atid MK Yael German fiercely denounced Liberman for giving up on religion and state issues to join the government, and described him as “a nightmare.”Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.