How we got here: A timeline of the haredi conscription coalition crisis

Will it stick, or will there be more items on this timeline? That remains to be seen.

The Knesset building (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset building
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
September 12, 2017: The High Court of Justice strikes down the government’s policy exempting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from military service, saying it’s discriminatory, and gives the government one year to come up with a new policy.
February 1, 2018: Shas and United Torah Judaism lawmakers, as well as Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, draft a bill titled “Basic Law: Torah Learning,” meant to establish study of Jewish texts as a basic value in Israel. The idea is that if Torah study is as important a value as Israel’s security, one cannot be legally favored over the other. Sources in the parties say they would condition their vote for the 2019 state budget on the bill passing as law, which means a six-week time frame.
February 15: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sets up a panel in his ministry to draft a haredi enlistment bill “without political intervention.” The committee includes a representative of the IDF Rabbinate.
February 22: The Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, one of the parties in the UTJ, reinforced the faction’s budget ultimatum by saying its MKs must not vote on the budget unless the enlistment bill passes an early vote.
February 26
: The breaking point: Shas and UTJ put “Basic Law: Torah Learning” on the week’s legislative agenda. MK Robert Ilatov, chairman of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu faction, demands that the coalition remove the bill. He says that if it goes to a vote, the party will vote against it. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu also says he’s not enthusiastic and would prefer the Defense Ministry’s version.
February 27: Senior UTJ MK and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni cancels the week’s votes on the state budget, incensing Kahlon. Liberman says Yisrael Beytenu will only vote for the Defense Ministry’s bill.
February 28: The Torah study bill does not go to a vote in the Knesset. Deputy Health Minister and UTJ leader Ya’acov Litzman reiterates that the faction will not vote for the state budget until the enlistment bill passes a vote.
March 1: A meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and haredi party leaders does not bring a solution to the brewing crisis. Gafni calls to postpone the budget vote until May, after the Knesset’s Passover recess, but Kahlon refuses. Likud Minister Yariv Levin is pessimistic a solution can be found; veteran UTJ MK Uri Maklev calls all of the proposed compromises jokes.
March 3: Netanyahu heads to Washington for five days, to meet with President Donald Trump and speak at the AIPAC conference, leaving the coalition partners to work out their problems themselves – which they fail at, quite spectacularly. “We’re not going to an early election,” Netanyahu says confidently on the way onto the plane, though he did not met with or even speak to Shas and UTJ leaders before his departure. Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett calls on the sides to reach agreements and avoid an election.
March 4: Shas and UTJ harden their positions. Their newspapers say the bill must pass a final reading before the budget passes, a practical impossibility.
March 5: Liberman and Kahlon threaten to resign if the haredi proposal passes and the budget is not approved on time, respectively. Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked open their own track of negotiations, working with the haredi parties on a draft bill that would set annual enlistment targets. Mutual recriminations between Netanyahu and his coalition partners continue throughout the week, while they all insist they don’t really want an early election.
March 10: Back in Israel, Netanyahu dives into negotiations, meeting with Shas’s and UTJ’s leaderships. Netanyahu says he needs three things to happen to end the crisis: That the haredi enlistment bill put forward be one that haredi parties and the attorney-general agree on; that Kahlon and all of Kulanu support the bill through all three votes; and that Liberman and all other coalition party leaders commit to allowing the bill to move forward and to stay in the government. Liberman continues to threaten to leave, accusing the haredim of blackmail and saying: “In life, there are moments in which you have to go with what you believe and not what pays. This is that moment.”
March 11: Netanyahu holds a meeting for all coalition party leaders, but Liberman doesn’t attend. The prime minister also says he doesn’t want a 61-seat coalition – meaning all the parties except Yisrael Beytenu – because it won’t be stable. Bennett says the nation won’t forgive Netanyahu if he calls an election over his investigations. By the evening, it seems like an early election was averted because the haredi parties and Kahlon reached an agreement: A haredi enlistment bill setting annual targets would pass a preliminary reading this week, and the budget would go to a vote with haredi support. The Council of Torah Sages agrees to the compromise.
March 12: The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approves the enlistment bill, but Liberman still hasn’t reached any agreements with anyone in the coalition and plans to oppose it. Liberman says his party will leave the coalition if the bill passes a final reading as it is, without Defense Ministry input, which theoretically gives the coalition a few more months of breathing room. However, he also says that Landver will vote against the bill in a preliminary reading, and his party will leave the coalition if Netanyahu fires her, as is customary when a minister votes against the coalition.
In a speech before the Knesset, Netanyahu tells his coalition partners that they are “stronger together,” and they must make a major effort that night – but he doesn’t meet with Liberman that night. They speak briefly by phone.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s advisers and Likud ministers work on getting enough votes for a bill to dissolve the Knesset that would have the election held on the earliest possible date, June 26. Some in the coalition, while still opposing an early election, seek a later date, and the ministers talk about that to opposition MKs. While Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay says they won’t do what’s convenient for Netanyahu, his party ends up submitting its own bill that would have the election be on June 26.
March 13: The legislative agenda has the opposition’s bills to disperse the Knesset on it, followed by the enlistment bill and the state budget. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is set to re-vote on the enlistment bill in the evening, shortly before the plenum vote is set to happen. Throughout the day, various compromises are floated, and all the coalition parties agree on a compromise, which they then present to Netanyahu. Just as the committee is set to meet, Netanyahu agrees to the outline, which would allow Landver to vote against the bill without being fired and for the bill to eventually have Defense Ministry input.
The Likud throws in progress on the Jewish nation-state bill for its efforts.
To avoid future crises, the agreement includes having the coalition not propose new legislation on religion and state, and for the parties to try to keep the coalition stable “over time.”
Will it stick, or will there be more items on this timeline? That remains to be seen.