MK Gafni threatens to bring down government over Haredi draft bill

The defense ministry said that his party will not compromise on any issues affecting Israeli security.

Moshe Gafni
United Torah Judaism responded to Yisrael Beytenu’s threats with one of its own on Tuesday, after the coalition moved to remove the UTJ-Shas bill to anchor in law the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service from this week’s agenda.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said if the “enlistment bill” is not brought for a preliminary vote in the plenum on Wednesday, his party will stop voting with the coalition and its “crazy” legislation.
“The enlistment bill is extremely dear to us and part of the coalition agreements,” Gafni said. “We will bring it tomorrow for a vote. If members of the coalition oppose it, we will not vote any longer for the crazy bills you are bringing.”
Later, Gafni decided to cancel next week’s committee votes on the 2019 state budget, ostensibly because of disagreements within the coalition relating to the budget.
The bill in question is a proposed Basic Law that would establish Torah study as a supreme value in the State of Israel and would protect the right of yeshiva students to not perform military service. The Haredi parties conditioned their votes for the state budget on support for the measure. But coalition chairman David Amsalem (Likud) said doing so violates the coalition agreement and blocked it from going on the Knesset’s agenda for this week.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman emphasized his party’s refusal to support the proposal.
“Yisrael Beytenu’s stance on the matter of Haredi conscription is clear and transparent,” he said on his Facebook page. “We will only support legislation drawn up by the professional staff established by the Defense Ministry.”
Liberman’s remarks came a day after his party threatened to leave the coalition over the matter. Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov said the party’s MKs would vote against the bill, including Aliya and Integration Minister Sofa Landver, which would mean she is resigning from the cabinet.
Liberman said he told the Defense Ministry committee that is working on a bill dealing with Haredi conscription: “I and all other politicians have a political agenda, and I ask you to ignore it. I ask you to follow one and only agenda – the IDF and the security of the citizens of Israel.”
“As a member of the coalition, Yisrael Beytenu is willing to compromise and be flexible on many topics, except for one – the security of the State of Israel,” Liberman said. “Therefore, any attempt to bring a political proposal on this loaded topic will be met with firm opposition by all of our members in the cabinet and the Knesset. I hope that everyone will ignore electoral considerations and stick only to security considerations.”
The UTJ-Shas bill comes after the High Court of Justice ruled in September that the current exemption system is discriminatory and harms the principle of equality before the law, and that the state must either draft ultra-Orthodox men or pass a new law on the issue within a year.
The Haredi parties decided to advance the legislation as a Basic Law to prevent the High Court from striking it down, as it did last year with the law passed by the current government in 2015, which afforded yeshiva students the right not to perform military service.
To become a Basic Law, the proposed legislation needs an absolute majority of 61 in the Knesset.
The bill reads: “Torah study is a foundational value in the heritage of the Jewish people,” and “the State of Israel, as a Jewish state, sees supreme importance in encouraging Torah study and Torah students.”
It adds that the state “will see in those who dedicate themselves to studying Torah for an extended period as someone who does substantial service for the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” meaning in lieu of military service.
The explanatory section of the bill says Torah study has been a foundational principle of the Jewish people since its inception, and that such study has been the guarantor of the continuation of the Jewish people.
The sponsors have argued that it would have been appropriate to enact the legislation outside of the framework of exemptions from IDF service.
However, they have stated explicitly that the law is designed to override the decision of the High Court.