The chances of Israel going to early elections increased dramatically on Sunday after the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael insisted that a law to guarantee military service exemptions for yeshiva students be passed before the 2019 budget is approved.
MKs from Agudat Yisrael presented the details of the bill to the party’s Council of Torah Sages on Sunday afternoon. The council secretary issued a statement which, although not addressing the content of the draft law, stated that the council’s demands from two weeks ago would remain in place. The decision of Agudat Yisrael, which makes up half of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction, constituted a rejection of a compromise bill proposed by Bayit Yehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked that aimed to ward off the collapse of the government that would see the country go to the ballot boxes more than a year before the scheduled date.Kulanu leader and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has rejected Agudat Yisrael’s demands to pass the enlistment law before the budget, saying that the budget must pass this coming week or he will resign and topple the government. At the same time, UTJ and Agudah chairman and Deputy Finance Minister Yaakov Litzman has said that he will not vote for the budget until the enlistment exemption bill is approved. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, together with UTJ MK Meir Porush and former Shas MK Ariel Atias have been working on a new bill which could pass muster in the High Court of Justice while preserving the ability of haredi yeshiva students to obtain military service exemptions.The bill that has been drawn up would set binding annual targets for haredi enlistment, which would be reviewed every one or two years. Should the targets not be met, the law would be voided and young haredi men would theoretically be obliged to enlist to the IDF, although the Knesset would have a year to pass a new exemptions law. The Jerusalem Post has learned that the grand rabbis of Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Torah Sages oppose the clause in which the law lapses if the targets are not met, out of a concern that it could lead to mass drafting of yeshiva students. MKs from Agudat Yisrael were working on a new version of the bill to overcome the rabbis’ objections on Sunday night, and intend to bring it back to the Council of Torah Sages once it is reworked. In the meantime, Litzman met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an apparent effort to prevent the collapse of the government. Sources in Agudat Yisrael said they believed the crisis was solvable if a new version of the bill is acceptable to the rabbis even without the agreement of Defense Minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who has rejected any haredi-sponsored legislation on the issue.
Netanyahu spells out three conditions for coalition deal, March 11, 2018