MK vows government will fall if haredi enlistment exemption law not passed

UTJ’s cooperation with the government is based on the agreement to protect the right of yeshiva students not to perform military service.

MK Yaakov Asher (photo credit: OFFICE OF MK YAAKOV ASHER)
MK Yaakov Asher
Failure to pass a law reinstating blanket military service exemption for haredi yeshiva students will lead to the collapse of the government, United Torah Judaism MK Yakov Asher has warned.
Asher, speaking to The Jerusalem Post, said UTJ’s cooperation with the government is based on the agreement to protect the right of yeshiva students not to perform military service.
The previous law guaranteeing this was struck down by the High Court of Justice last year, and a deadline set for September this year to pass new legislation regulating the status of haredi yeshiva students.
Asher said that UTJ and Shas have drawn up their own bill to solve the issue, which is “very similar” to the law that got struck down “but with minor changes,” and are waiting for proposals to be made by the Defense Ministry special committee which is drafting its own recommendations.
Once those proposals are made, he said, that legislation would then be finalized “in cooperation” with other coalition partners.
“The prime minister and the coalition heads know for sure that if this law does not pass then from our perspective we will have no part in this government by the end of this [Knesset] session,” Asher said.
“The basis of our cooperation of with this government, the spine of it is on this issue... So either the High Court decision is removed, or a new enlistment law is passed. To leave the situation hanging when the law expires in September will not happen.
“From our perspective, there will not be a situation where someone who wants to study Torah will become a criminal.”
Asher said that UTJ and Shas were not seeking a High Court override law for this specific legislation, but supported the broader effort by other coalition partners to pass general High Court override legislation.
“Things which the Knesset, the sovereign, decides with a majority – it is not acceptable that people who were not elected by the public [the High Court justices], who have a particular agenda, will decide things over the head of the elected body,” he argued.
ASHER ALSO discussed forthcoming legislation to be proposed by former Likud government minister Moshe Nissim, whom the prime minister tasked with finding a solution to the complex conflict over Jewish conversion in Israel.
Draft legislation drawn up by Nissim would apparently have the state recognize Jewish conversion by the Reform and Conservative movements performed in the Diaspora, but would rule out recognition of all nonstate conversions in Israel, be they Reform, Masorti (Conservative), Orthodox or indeed haredi.
Although Reform and Conservative conversions abroad are currently recognized by the state, they are recognized only by dint of a cabinet resolution and not by legislation.
Asher said that such a bill would be unacceptable to UTJ, since it would anchor in law state recognition of non-Orthodox conversion.
“To be Jewish there is Jewish law, and if the law adheres to Jewish law which we have observed all our years as a people – we are looking out not just for our children but for the children of the entire Jewish people, and to be part of the Jewish people means to do a journey within Jewish law,” he said.
“Conversions which are not done in accordance with Jewish law are from our perspective not conversions. We will not accept a law like this.”
The MK also addressed October’s Jerusalem mayoral elections as well as an important vote in the city council on Wednesday regarding the continued operations of the capital’s First Station – restaurants and other activities at the Old Train Station – on Shabbat.
The haredi political factions in the council have scheduled a vote regarding a permit for the First Station’s Shabbat activities and look likely to succeed in revoking it, much to the chagrin of pluralist and secular parties and communities in the capital.
One mayoral candidate hoping to gain haredi backing, as he did in 2013, is Moshe Lion, and the vote on Wednesday puts him in a difficult situation since he will likely alienate the haredi community if he votes to renew the permit, and the pluralist, secular community if he votes to retract it.
Asher would not be drawn as to the consequences for Lion if he votes to renew the permit, but said that the haredi parties expect the enforcement of the status quo on religious affairs, which prohibits Shabbat violation by municipality-owned or -run institutions.
The First Station is leased by the municipality from Israel Railways.
“We expect that anyone for whom the uniqueness of Jerusalem, the holy city, is important, will work with all his strength not to break the existing status quo in Jerusalem. We expect this from all the council members, including those who are not Shabbat observant and certainly those who are,” said Asher.
He added that there are several fitting haredi candidates should the haredi parties not find a suitable non-haredi candidate to back, such as long-time city council members Yitzhak Pindrus, who is considering running, and Yossi Deutsch.