Why the haredim avoided elections by backtracking on enlistment

The haredi parties, despite their frequent threats, are not always ready to topple the government if they don’t get their way.

Why did the utra-Orthodox avoid elections by backtracking on enlistment?
If there is one thing that has become crystal clear out the fog of the current coalition crisis, it is that the haredi parties most certainly do not want elections.
Although in many ways it was United Torah Judaism chairman and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman who initiated the crisis by demanding that the coalition pass with undue haste a military service exemption law for haredi yeshiva students, both he and other senior UTJ MKs worked vigorously in the end to halt the slide to elections.
MK Moshe Gafni, the fiery chairman of Degel Hatorah – the non-hassidic half of UTJ – was from the outset more conciliatory than usual in his approach to passing the enlistment exemptions law, and implicitly criticized Litzman in public for his unyielding demand to pass the bill before the budget.
As the crisis grew in severity, Degel Hatorah MKs joined with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in an urgent and expedited effort to formulate a new, far more reasonable bill than had originally been proposed that could possibly gain the backing of Yisrael Beytenu and prevent the government from falling apart.
Whereas the original bill nakedly and blatantly rode roughshod over the recent High Court decision striking down mass exemptions, the new bill agreed to by Gafni and the two other Degel MKs brought back the idea of binding enlistment targets, which had been imposed by UTJ’s villainous archenemy Yair Lapid in the law passed in 2014.
And not only did the Degel Hatorah MKs agree to it, along with those of Shas, they even managed to convince the two leading rabbis of the haredi non-hassidic community, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, to give them the green light to negotiate on the basis of this proposal.
At the same time, Litzman himself, together with the other MKs from Agudat Yisrael – the hassidic half of UTJ – also seemingly saw the proposal as fitting to take to the Aguda Council of Torah Sages.
And while it is true that the hassidic rabbis rejected this proposal, they nevertheless agreed that Aguda could vote for the budget before a new enlistment exemption bill is passed into law, allowing the party to step back from its threats to topple the government.
The reasons for this more timorous approach are twofold.
First, this is widely acknowledged to be the most generous, munificent government for the haredi community in recent memory.
The budget for yeshivas is the highest it has ever been, welfare and communal benefits scrapped by the last government were fully restored, and control of the religion and state issues, as well as the religious establishment and the lucrative appointments within it, are fully in the hands of the haredi parties.
Putting that at risk by going to elections is without doubt a significant gamble for the haredi parties.
Second is the looming specter of Lapid and the bitter experience of the last time he was in government when everything the haredi community holds dear seemed under threat.
Yesh Atid is a persistent threat to Netanyahu in the polls, and although Likud has retained its lead, no one knows what the outcome of an election might be against the background of the prime minister’s multiple corruption investigations.
And should the government fall over the issue of haredi IDF enlistment, Lapid would likely have a field day with this politically explosive issue during the election campaign.
Shas, and its chairman, Interior Minister Arye Deri, has kept an extremely low profile throughout this crisis but has strongly supported the compromise position, most likely because of Shas’s consistently poor performance in the polls, many of which place Shas in danger of not even making it into the next Knesset.
So perhaps out of the swirling clouds of misinformation, uncertainty, and political conspiracy theories that have shrouded the government in recent days, one myth can be dispelled: The haredi parties, despite their frequent threats, are not always ready to topple the government if they don’t get their way.