Haredi IDF draft plans will lead to breakdown of Israeli society, Lapid warns

Nearly half of Israelis support Gantz entering government instead of Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, poll finds

 A SOLDIER and haredi man pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
A SOLDIER and haredi man pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

Reports that the government is planning on lowering the exemption age of conscription for haredi citizens while raising benefits for those who do serve, constitutes a "continuation of the attack on Israeliness in the name of Judaism," opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid said in a press conference ahead of a party meeting on Wednesday.

"This government is leading us to a head-on dispute between Judaism and Israeliness. We must not let it. Israelis are Jews, Jews are Israelis. We are the Jewish people, we are the Israeli nation, we are here together," Lapid said.

Lapid mentioned that he had passed two separate conscription agreements since joining politics, and while neither was perfect, they were "a step in the right direction" and an "attempt to prevent the breakdown of Israeli society, exactly the breakdown that is threatening us today," the opposition leader said.

He added that if the government passed what he called a "national draft evasion" law without broad consensus, he will act to cancel it at the first opportunity he receives.

 Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Yad Mordechai, April 17, 2023. (credit: ELAD GUTMAN) Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Yad Mordechai, April 17, 2023. (credit: ELAD GUTMAN)

"I propose to the government, and especially to the haredi parties, to hold dialogue on the conscription law. To talk about it at the President's Residence, at least to attempt to see if it is possible to arrive at an agreed-upon plan that will not lead to an even larger schism," Lapid said.

MK Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the opposition party Yisrael Beytenu, criticized Lapid over his comments, saying that they were "mistaken and misleading the public."

"75 years of cumulative experience proves beyond all doubt that on the topic of equal sharing of the burden and establishing a constitution, it is not possible to arrive at agreements with the haredi establishment. Therefore, those who really want true sharing of the burden and establishing a constitution must understand that it is time for a decision, and the issue cannot continue to be delayed forever.

"Now is the time to form a Zionist coalition and thus to promise our future as a Jewish, Zionist, equal and liberal state," Liberman said.

A forum comprised of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Ministerial Liaison to the Knesset David (Dudi) Amsalem and coalition whip MK Ofir Katz met twice this week in order to discuss an outline for a new haredi draft bill, after haredi party leaders clarified to Netanyahu last week that despite the sensitivity of the issue, they are insisting on the fulfillment of a coalition agreement clause to pass such a bill by the time Israel's budget passes on May 29.

What is the general idea of the new bill?

According to a number of reports, the general idea of the new bill is that the government will prioritize equality in the "economic burden" over the "military burden" by lowering the exemption age for haredi men, while minimizing the inequality to IDF soldiers by shortening the length of service for those who do serve and providing benefits.

According to the existing law that expires on July 31, haredi yeshiva students who leave a yeshiva before the age of 26 are required to serve in the IDF. The government is discussing what the new exemption age will be, with the IDF preferring 23 while Smotrich and the haredi parties reportedly prefer earlier. Another issue that is being discussed is the size and form of the benefits for conscripts in general and combat soldiers in particular.

The Knesset convened on Wednesday in an unusual session held during the spring recess, which ends on April 30, to approve a number of government decisions. These included the appointment of Shas MK Moshe Arbel to the positions of Health Minister and Interior Minister, and moving the Government Companies Authority from the Finance Ministry to the Regional Cooperation Ministry under the Likud's David (Dudi) Amsalem. The latter was part of a package that Amsalem was promised after he did not receive his preferred positions of Justice Minister or Knesset Speaker. The package also included him serving as a Minister within the Justice Ministry and as the Governmental Liaison to the Knesset.

Arbel's appointment came as the three months permitted for two other Shas ministers to serve as temporary fill-ins are set to expire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially appointed Shas chairman Aryeh Deri to both positions, but the appointment was ruled "extremely unreasonable" and struck down by the High Court, both due to the Shas chairman's recurring white-collar criminal convictions, the last of which came as part of a plea bargain in January 2022 and because Deri earned the lenient plea bargain by misleading the court that he would not reenter politics.

The coalition was unsuccessful in passing a law that would bypass the ruling and enable Netanyahu to reappoint Deri. It is unclear whether the coalition will continue its attempts to pass the law once the Knesset recess is over.

Also on Wednesday, Lapid announced that he would not attend this year's national Independence Day ceremony, which is under the responsibility of Transportation Minister Miri Regev.

"Minister Regev, my seat will remain empty because you did not leave me a choice," Lapid said. "I love the country from the bottom of my heart, but in three months you tore apart Israeli society and no fake fireworks display will hide this. If the unity of the people was so important to you, you would not have taken apart our democracy and would have gone to work for the citizens of Israel," he wrote.

Culture and Sports Minister Mickey Zphar criticized Lapid, arguing in a post on Twitter that the opposition leader's decision "deepens the schism and brings more unnecessary hate between brothers."

Netanyahu as opposition leader last year did not attend the ceremony.

A poll by the Midgam Institute led by Mano Geva found on Wednesday that nearly half of all Israeli civilians supported National Unity chairman MK Benny Gantz's party entering the current Netanyahu-led coalition and government instead of Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit party and Smotrich's Religious Zionist Party (RZP). Out of 584 respondents, approximately 47% said they supported such a move, 32% said they opposed it, and 21% did not know.

Some 41% of voters for the current coalition parties expressed their support and 45.7% of Likud voters. Some 56.6% of voters for the opposition parties expressed their support, including 53.5% of Yesh Atid voters and 60.3% of National Unity voters.