Coalition requests new extension on haredi enlistment bill as passage in doubt

On Sunday, UTJ MK Uri Maklev said that the party would vote against the bill as it stands.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN walk past the entrance to an IDF draft office in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN walk past the entrance to an IDF draft office in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The government said on Sunday that it will request an additional extension from the High Court of Justice to pass a law for haredi enlistment to the IDF, after it became clear on Sunday that it does not have a majority to pass the bill currently making its way through the legislative process.
The government was relying on support from opposition parties Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu to pass the bill, since haredi coalition partners United Torah Judaism and Shas are not prepared to vote in favor of the legislation.
But Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid threatened on Saturday night to vote against the bill, alleging that the government was preparing to provide extra funds to haredi yeshivas if financial sanctions stipulated in the enlistment bill come into affect.
Coalition MKs denied the claims.
UTJ and Shas do not like the legislation, but have made clear that they would not quit the coalition and topple the government if the bill is passed, since its terms are relatively moderate and the haredi leadership believes it could live with it, or amend it at a later date after the next election.
The leading rabbi of the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” haredi community Rabbi Haim Kanievsky described the bill earlier this year as “the lesser of two evils” and said that the MKs of Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic half of the UTJ Knesset faction, should not go to war over the legislation.
Despite this position, the haredi parties cannot vote in favor of the bill because it would appear as if they were giving political support for a law which will stop some yeshiva students continuing their religious studies, and endorsing IDF enlistment which is deeply frowned upon due to concerns young haredi men will become non-religious during their service.
On Sunday, UTJ MK Uri Maklev said that the party would vote against the bill as it stands and seemed to contradict Degel’s previous stance and that of its leading rabbi.
“We will vote against the law, if the law is not changed we will vote against it,” Maklev said on Kan Radio.
“It is not the lesser of two evils. Maybe there are a couple of good things about the basis of the law, but everything else needs to be amended,” he said.
Shas chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has not yet made clear how the party will vote, but it is unlikely that the party will take a more compromising line than UTJ.
The current bill was approved in its first reading in July and stipulates annual targets for haredi enlistment which increase every year for ten years, and financial sanctions in the form of steadily increasing reductions to the budget for haredi yeshivas should enlistment targets not be met.
UTJ and Shas object strongly to the principle of the sanctions, while the rabbis of Agudat Yisrael, UTJ’s hassidic half, have expressed strong opposition to a clause stipulating that the law would automatically be annulled if enlistment targets are not met for three years in a row.
The government already received a three month extension from the High Court in August to pass a new law, which expires on December 2.
Lapid criticized the government’s request for an extension from the High Court, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could guarantee Yesh Atid’s support for the bill if he himself promises “that there will not be any tricks over the money,” referring to his concerns regarding the financial sanctions.
“But Netanyahu has capitulated to the haredim again and again. Yesh Atid will continue to fight for equality in the burden of military service and will not capitulate to the extortion of the haredim.”