Agudah rabbis ready to compromise, reluctant for elections over enlistment

PM: I don’t need an excuse for elections.

Ultra-orthodox in the IDF: A Nahal Haredi swearing-in ceremony (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ultra-orthodox in the IDF: A Nahal Haredi swearing-in ceremony
A decision by the Agudat Yisrael Council of Torah Sages seemingly to compromise on the haredi enlistment law Sunday night means that early elections may not be called over the intractable battle for ultra-Orthodox military enlistment.
The council convened in Jerusalem Sunday night, with the grand rabbis of the major hassidic communities deliberating the issue for over two hours.
Although a formal announcement is likely to be printed only on Monday in the hassidic daily newspapers, it appears that the grand rabbis of Agudah’s council instructed their three MKs either to obtain a compromise on the bill or to vote against it but not quit the coalition.
According to Channel 2 News, a senior source in Agudah said that “the grand rabbis decided to compromise,” and that “we will not let Netanyahu topple the government over enlistment and we won’t give [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid the [Knesset] seats,” in an election fought over the issue of haredi military service.
The rabbis said during the meeting that they want the law to include a principle that any yeshiva student who wants to continue studying in yeshiva be allowed to do so, but if the law is passed without such a clause then the Agudah MKs should not leave the coalition.
Speaking on haredi radio station Kol Hai, Agudah MK Yisrael Eichler said that the grand rabbis of the council had said that “there has to be a clear declaration that every Jew who learns Torah and who wants to [continue learning] Torah will not have to go to the army,” 
“All other details can be worked out in negotiations with the Defense Ministry to see how this [guarantee] can be ensured in the law in a way that allows the continuation of the government,” Eichler added.
Sources close to Netanyahu responded to the decision of the rabbis by saying that if the enlistment bill is passed and other controversial legislation can be overcome, he would not expedite early elections.
In interviews Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said going to elections over conscription is “unnecessary and even irresponsible.” But he also said he would not compromise at all on the bill.
“The bill is an entire construction,” he told Ynet. “Once you start taking out a screw, and then another, the entire thing could collapse.”
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu called upon the grand rabbis of the Council of Torah Sages Sunday to endorse the bill.
The Supreme Court set a December 2 deadline to pass the bill, which is backed by Shas and by Degel Hatorah, Agudat Yisrael’s partner in United Torah Judaism. Netanyahu has enough votes to pass it without Agudat Yisrael’s support, but he wants all the parties in his coalition to vote for it.
“The enlistment bill is a good bill for Israel that balances between the needs of the army that prepared it and for the haredi public,” he said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “This bill must pass. The time has come to put it behind us.”
Netanyahu told Likud ministers earlier that he especially wanted to pass it with the current make-up of the government, and not with the votes of Yesh Atid, which voted for the bill in its first reading.
“I don’t need an excuse for elections,” he said. “There are plenty. This coalition is good, and it must continue working.”
Netanyahu postponed the weekly meeting of coalition party heads, because he wanted to see the results of the Council of Torah Sages’ fateful meeting.
Netanyahu pressured Agudat Yisrael leader Ya'acov Litzman over the weekend to support the conscription bill. Netanyahu reportedly told Litzman that he wanted to pass the bill as soon as possible, even if early elections are initiated.
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay said the conscription bill would not result in haredim being drafted or easing the burden on those who serve. He criticized Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for backing the bill in its first reading.
“Equality in service is not a political gimmick,” Gabbay said. “It is too bad Lapid surrendered and became the bullet-proof vest of Netanyahu and Liberman.”