Coalition crisis brewing over ‘Tal Law’ replacement

Kadima, Shas, UTJ spar over quotas, penalties; Mofaz insists on stringent law with sharp penalties for those who don't serve.

Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Deep divides were exposed between coalition factions on Wednesday over the terms of legislation being formulated to raise the number of ultra-Orthodox men in national-service programs.
Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz is continuing to insist on a stringent law with sharp penalties against those who do not serve, while the haredi Knesset factions remain deeply opposed to any coercive measures and are warning that any such law will be impossible to implement on the ground.
Both United Torah Judaism and Shas expressed vehement opposition on Wednesday to any imposition of maximum quotas for the number of yeshiva students who are able to receive exemptions from military service, a key component of the current proposals, as well as to proposed financial sanctions on individuals who do not serve.
Penalties such as the cancellation of housing benefits and municipal tax breaks, which many members of the haredi community receive, are crucial, they say, to the implementation of any legislation seeking to dramatically increase the number of haredim serving in the army or national service.
In spite of their opposition to current proposals, neither Shas nor UTJ are threatening to exit the coalition, telling Channel 10 news that they won’t give Kadima the pleasure of them leaving.
A source within Kadima told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “must choose between the haredim and those who serve, and he has every reason to go with those who serve.”
“It is not good for Bibi [Netanyahu] to go to elections as the defender of the haredim,” he added.
Despite Kadima’s implicit threat to leave the coalition if its terms are not met, a source close to Netanyahu stated on Wednesday night that all efforts are being made to convince Mofaz to compromise “in order to avoid elections that could destroy Kadima.”
The same source also stated that ministers voting against the final bill would not be fired from the government, providing a way for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to oppose the legislation, which he will certainly do, while remaining in the coalition.
According to the official, Netanyahu believes he will be able to form a majority to pass a compromise bill through the Knesset, which Likud, Kadima and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence party will all support.
The prime minister is attempting to convince Kadima to drop the idea of financial sanctions against individuals and instead legislate economic penalties against yeshivot which do not live up to quotas for national-service recruits.
According to sources close to the prime minister, he believes that the possibility exists that Shas and Kadima might be convinced to agree to this kind of framework.
Although a law could technically be passed in Knesset mandating financial sanctions, obligatory national service for all and quotas for yeshiva students, haredi factions are warning that any such law would be completely ineffective and counterproductive.
“The rabbis and yeshiva deans will simply not allow 18- year-old boys to go to the army,” a senior source in UTJ told the Post. “It will be impossible to implement such a law.”
He continued: “There is a problem on the ground here, not just a political issue, because the yeshiva students simply won’t go, so what will be the point of legislation like this if it doesn’t lead to more haredim going to the army?” He added that there is little likelihood of bridging the gaps between what is acceptable to the haredi parties and what Kadima is demanding.
“Unless Bibi [Netanyahu] pulls a rabbit out of his hat, it’s hard to see how a compromise can reached,” he said.
The ultra-Orthodox MKs who are engaged in the negotiations with the prime minister on the issue, led by Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, are believed to be open to finding ways to increase the numbers of haredim enlisting into military or national service, but not to an obligatory draft that prevents yeshiva students from studying full-time.
The UTJ official said these numbers could be made up by haredi youth who are enrolled in yeshiva to gain a draft exemption but not actually studying there. Although the haredi factions would still not vote for such a law, they could be convinced to live with it, he said.
According to Gen. Elazar Stern, former head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, there are at least 10,000 such yeshiva students who could be drafted, out of a total of approximately 54,000 full-time yeshiva students who indefinitely defer their national service under the terms of the “Tal Law.”
“At the end of the day, [MK Yohanan] Plesner and the committee can sit and deliberate as much as they like, what’s important is what agreement can be made between the prime minister and the haredi factions,” the UTJ official said.