Parties dig in on IDF draft positions as coalition teeters

After Mofaz threatens to pull Kadima from coalition, Yisrael Beytenu's Liberman says haredim should defer draft "not for two months and not for two days"; Shas leader Yishai: Israelis support haredi yeshiva studies.

Haredi soldier 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi soldier 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ministers from the various coalition parties on Tuesday drew lines in the sand, entrenching their positions on enacting a new law on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab military service a day after Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz threatened to break up the young coalition government over the issue.
Mofaz's coalition threat came in response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Monday decision to dissolve the Keshev Committee, charged with replacing the Tal Law. Yisrael Beytenu, Habayit Hayehudi and haredi representative had quit the committee, saying its findings had no chance of passing in the Knesset.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) on Tuesday said that his party would stay in the coalition, but reiterated his party's position that "every Israeli that reaches 18 must be drafted either to the army or the civilian service." In an interview with Army Radio, Liberman dismissed suggestions that haredim should be allowed to defer their draft for several years, saying their entry should not be postponed, "not for two months and not for two days."
Noting that Israel's population includes 18,000 draft-eligible Arabs to only 8,000 such haredim, Liberman stressed that Arab Israelis must serve as well. Asked how he would react if Israel's Arabs demanded equality of services from the government before having service thrust upon them, Liberman responded that anyone who claims Arabs aren't equal "is talking nonsense."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai defended his Shas party's position, saying that most Israelis support at least a large segment of the haredi community studying in yeshivas instead of joining the IDF. Speaking to Israel Radio, Yishai said "Most Israelis don't think they're suckers for joining the army. They understand that those who study in yeshivas work very hard. Studying the torah is a legitimate way of serving the state."
Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit reiterated Mofaz's comments made Monday that the party will not stay in the coalition if the committee's recommendations are not adopted, adding that he regrets voting for May's unity government deal that brought Kadima into the coalition and prevented early elections.
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said that his party is not ready for compromise on an all-inclusive draft law. "I am not ready for anything," Litzman said in an interview to Army Radio. "I'm ready to accept that whoever wants to study will study, whoever doesn't will serve."
The Independence faction supports so-called sanctions against individuals who refuse to serve in the army or civilian service, MK Einat Wilf said in an interview to Army Radio Tuesday.
"[Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud] Barak made clear from the beginning that the IDF should draft whoever it needs. Whoever serves will receive [benefits from the state] and whoever does not serve will not."
Yesh Atid party founder Yair Lapid on Tuesday lashed out against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for allowing religious parties to scuttle a deal over a new draft law.
"Tell the haredim 'sorry,' but the secular and religious public in Israel cannot handle this burden on their own," he said in an interview with Army Radio.
Lapid expressed outrage that religious parties were not prepared to accept compromise on issues the rest of the nation accepts as duties. "Nobody asked us if we are ready to be drafted, ready to pay income taxes, ready to stop at a red light," he said.
Kadima activist and former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz on Tuesday urged the government to pass an equal service law, calling the present political situation "a one-time opportunity" to come to a new arrangement.
Speaking to Army Radio, Halutz said "whoever is worried about the country's future must understand that if we don't take the opportunity to create one law for all the citizens, we won't have the opportunity again," adding that the process "won't get easier as the years pass."
Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, who heads the Keshev Committee – tasked with finding a replacement for the “Tal Law” – intends to publish recommendations he promised would be historic on Wednesday, despite Netanyahu announcing that the committee has been dismantled.
Netanyahu discussed the coalition crisis with a number of ministers overnight Monday, telling them that he intends to bring to a vote a law requiring "civilian service" of anyone not drafted to the IDF, Army Radio reported.
The ministers Netanyahu met with included Liberman, Yishai, Daniel Herschkowitz, and Litzman, as well as MK Moshe Gafni. He is set to meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday.
Netanyahu has warned the haredim that if a compromise is not reached by August 1, when the Supreme Court ruled the Tal Law will be canceled, the IDF will be free to begin drafting yeshiva students.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.