assing an override law to stop the High Court from striking down legislation is “imperative” in the next Knesset and United Torah Judaism will demand such a law in its conditions for joining a coalition, MK Yaakov Asher said on Thursday.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Asher said that such a law was necessary to prevent the High Court of Justice from “defying the voice of the people” in general and striking down legislation requiring haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men to serve in the IDF in particular.
The MK also discussed the future of the growing haredi community and UTJ’s fight to stop Shabbat desecration in public.
One of the critical issues for UTJ in the coming Knesset will be the need to legislate a new law to regulate the status of haredi yeshiva students of military age.
The previous law that provided blanket exemptions from military service to yeshiva students was struck down by the High Court of Justice in September 2017 as being discriminatory against the rest of Israel’s Jewish population.
The government failed to legislate an alternative due to haredi objections against a moderate proposal drawn up by the Defense Ministry, and the proximate cause of the collapse of the coalition was over this very issue.
“An abnormal situation has been created where a few handful of individuals who are above the rest, at least in their eyes, become an alternative to the opinion of the people and of democracy,” Asher fumed.
Asked whether the High Court’s oversight was necessary to protect civil rights that might otherwise be harmed, Asher retorted that the court never required the Arab population to serve in the army, precisely because “they understand that there is a mentality in that sector where forcing them just doesn’t work.”
The Knesset member said that other parties would also be demanding a High Court over-ride bill in their coalition agreements, but acknowledged the it would be a central demand of UTJ’s as well, and that the UTJ would give it strong backing to ensure that in this Knesset a law is passed, unlike the previous session, where despite the demands of several parties, no such legislation was approved.
“This time it’s very serious. And it’s imperative,” he said.
Another central concern for UTJ in their coalition agreements will be to further restrict construction and commerce on Shabbat.
On this issue too, the last coalition experienced severe instability because of ongoing infrastructure construction and maintenance on Shabbat that took on greater visibility due to the activities of elements in the haredi sector intent on highlighting the issue and the clamor of the haredi media.
Asher acknowledged that UTJ would continue to insist that such activity cease on Shabbat, although he did not directly acknowledge it would be in the party’s conditions for joining a coalition.
“We feel that we are the gatekeepers in this regard,” he said. “We are protecting the identity of this state. The country can’t be Jewish if there aren’t any Jewish features of the state.”
“Can’t people buy their shopping the day before? Is that so terrible? Are people dying of hunger because of this?”
The MK was similarly unyielding when asked about the lack of public transportation on Shabbat for those without private vehicles who wish to travel to see their families or to enjoy leisure activities in different cities.
“What can you do about the fact that it’s hard to be a Jew?” he said. “I am not coercing, I am protecting. I am not coercing people [to keep Shabbat] on a personal level. Maybe it will be hard for them. So what? Yes, I am coercing the memory that we are Jews, once a week, for those who don’t pray and don’t fulfil the commandments,” he said.
Asher also addressed broader questions about the place of the haredi community within Israeli society into the future.
Asked what the vision of United Torah Judaism is for the haredi community, Asher said simply that there is no vision beyond continuing its devotion to learning and observing the Torah and its commandments.
“We do not change our vision every few years. This is what other parties do, those people who were on the Right and are now on the Left. The haredi community is not supposed to change,” he said. “Our vision is to continue to live in this land, peacefully and securely, observe the laws and commandments of the Torah and we will fulfill the precept of going in the ways of God.”
THE CENTRAL Bureau of Statistics has predicted that by 2030 the haredi community will constitute 16% of the total population, and 33% by 2065, totaling 40% of the Jewish population.
The Bank of Israel has frequently pointed out that Israel’s economic growth will slow significantly in coming decades if more haredi men and Arab women do not start joining the workforce.
Following the serious cuts to yeshiva and welfare budgets enjoyed by the haredi community in the 33rd government, the number of haredi men joining the workforce increased significantly from 45% in 2013 to 52% in 2016.
These gains have been stymied, however, by the 34th government, which reversed all of these cuts, and even increased the yeshiva budget, leading to the reversal of the trend of increasing male haredi employment, which declined back to 51% in 2018.
“Our faith says that our obligation is to observe and learn the Torah and through this we are protecting the Jewish people,” said Asher in response.
“All of these apocalyptic promises about Israel’s economy collapsing without the haredim and the Arabs have already been prophesied and proved to be false. The reason we are here in the Middle East is that same original source of our faith, the Torah, and if we have chosen to be here with all these neighbors and to spend so much on security because of this faith then we should also protect it.”