UTJ Gafni threatens elections if enlistment law not moderated

“I’m fed up with listening to Liberman’s threats. I’m not worried if there won’t be a coalition, we’ll go to elections again,” the UTJ MK warned.

Haredim protest enlistment 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim protest enlistment 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni threatened that his party would rather go back to the hustings and fight another election than back down on its demands for mass military service exemptions for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students.
UTJ rejected a draft haredi enlistment law drawn up by a Defense Ministry committee convened by Yisrael Beytenu leader and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman during the last government, which led in part to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolving the Knesset and calling early elections.
Liberman for his part has stated following the election that he will not accept “even one comma to be changed” in the draft law, setting up a head-on collision between him and the haredi parties during the negotiations to form a new government.
“We need a normal enlistment law with the principal that whoever wants to learns Torah in the framework of ‘Torah is his profession’ must be allowed to continue to do so,” Gafni said on Army Radio on Thursday morning.
“We are fed up with this claim that Liberman is the deciding factor; he got the votes he got and we got the votes we got,” he continued, in reference to the 16 Knesset seats garnered by UTJ and Shas compared with the five taken by Yisrael Beytenu. “I’m fed up with listening to Liberman’s threats. I’m not worried if there won’t be a coalition – we’ll go to elections again.”
Gafni declined to answer exactly what terms of the draft law he wanted changed, saying that those details should be discussed “behind closed doors.”
When the legislation was first submitted to the Knesset, Degel Hatorah – the non-hassidic half of UTJ led by Gafni – actually agreed to the terms of the bill, with its rabbinic leader and most senior haredi rabbi in the world Rabbi Haim Kanievsky calling it “the lesser of two evils.”
It was Agudat Yisrael – the hassidic half of UTJ – that more strongly objected to the bill, particularly clauses that would see it voided if enlistment targets were not met for three years in a row, as well as economic sanctions imposed on the general yeshiva budget if annual targets were missed.
Speaking on KAN radio, UTJ chairman and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman made similar comments, stating that “an enlistment law will not pass in accordance with the current [draft] law.”
He added that “the prime minister needs to solve the problem” between UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu’s competing demands.
The High Court of Justice has set a deadline for the passage of a new haredi enlistment law for the end of July, leaving very little time to legislate on this complex issue once the coalition has finally been put together.
It has, however, already given the government three extensions – after the initial September 2018 deadline was missed – and it is likely that another will be granted if the July 2019 deadline is also missed.
Netanyahu also faced challenges on Thursday from Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who is the only leader of a party expected to join the coalition who has not met with the prime minister since the election. Kahlon returned from abroad Wednesday night and turned down a chance to meet with Netanyahu on Thursday.
His associates said he saw no reason to hurry to meet with Netanyahu or to relay his party’s demands.
The head of the Likud’s negotiating team, outgoing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, said the coalition talks cannot begin in earnest until Kahlon meets with Netanyahu.
Levin said on Thursday that Netanyahu has not started dealing yet with portfolios.
The prime portfolio expected to be available to Likud ministers is foreign minister. Current acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz hopes to keep the post.
Since receiving the title two months ago, Katz has met with foreign ministers of Brazil, Hungary and Norway and the president of Liberia. He also spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington.
Outgoing Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in radio interviews on Thursday that he was interested in becoming foreign minister. Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who is seventh on the Likud list, is close to Netanyahu and speaks unaccented English, is also considered a top candidate for the post.•