Eyeing coalition with haredim, Netanyahu says he opposes criminal sanctions for IDF draft dodgers

“I do not think that yeshiva students studying Torah should go to prison. This was not to my liking,” PM says during press conference.

Haredim (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly paved the way for the formation of a new government with the haredi political parties after the upcoming election when he said Tuesday night that he disagreed with the criminal sanctions clause of the law for ultra-Orthodox conscription.
Responding to a question at a press conference he called to announce the dissolution of the Knesset, Netanyahu said he did not agree with the criminal sanctions clause of the law that was passed earlier this year, which stipulates that a yeshiva student who refuses to perform military service would be subject to imprisonment, like all other Jewish draft dodgers.
“I do not think yeshiva students studying Torah should go to prison,” the prime minister said. “This was not to my liking.”
Repeal of the criminal sanctions clause will be high on the agenda for haredi political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism when it comes to the coalition negotiations following the elections.
The haredi parties were furious with the prime minister for allowing the criminal sanctions clause to pass, and bitterly oppose the idea that a yeshiva student who wishes to continue with his religious studies should not be allowed to do so.
Netanyahu also said during the press conference that he had wanted as broad a coalition as possible and that excluding the haredi parties at the outset, as Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid did, was “an invalid principle.” He denied, however, the broadly circulated rumors that he had agreed to any deal with the haredi parties.
It was reported on Monday that Netanyahu had made certain promises to Shas and UTJ in return for guarantees they would back him to form the next government.
Instead, the prime minister accused Lapid himself of having tried to draft the haredim into a coalition without the Likud in order to form a new government.
“I have no agreement with the haredim, I didn’t concoct any agreement, I didn’t make any deal,” Netanyahu said. “The opposite is true, the one who is accusing me of this is the one who tried to make such deals.
He tried but didn’t succeed. Lapid tried with the same haredim who in public he says he won’t sit [in a coalition] with.
“There is no alternative government on the side of Lapid and [Labor chairman Isaac] Buji Herzog without the haredim, it’s as clear as day,” he added.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Shas chairman Arye Deri confirmed that attempts had been made to bring the haredi parties into a coalition without Likud.
“There is no deal before the elections, we have no agreement,” Deri said in reference to the reports of an arrangement between the prime minister and the haredi parties.
“There were two deals [on offer], from the Right and the Left,” Deri said. “Yesterday there was another attempt to convince me to not to go to elections and to establish a government without Netanyahu. We said all the time there would only be an alternative government after elections.”
Earlier on Tuesday, before Netanyahu fired Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Lapid himself accused Netanyahu of forming a pact with the haredi parties.
“Instead of bringing down the cost of living, passing a social-minded budget, improving the income of the middle class and helping the weaker sectors of society, the prime minister prefers to raise taxes and pay the haredi parties now out of the pocket of the Israeli middle class,” Lapid said during a speech at the Hadera Energy Conference.
“This is a deal with the haredim of the old and bad kind.”