Shas, UTJ lawmakers fight to prevent court from killing haredi military exemption

The newest development in the crisis that ensued after the High Court's decision to make Israel draft a new law or else draft all the haredim.

Haredi man and IDF soldiers in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi man and IDF soldiers in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi lawmakers vowed on Wednesday to prevent the High Court of Justice from ever intervening again on the issue of haredi military service, by introducing a proposed amendment to the current law including a clause allowing the Knesset to override a High Court decision on such legislation.
However, their coalition partner Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said that such a clause would be a mistake, and that he wanted to see a situation in which anyone refusing to serve in the IDF or national service is given a criminal record and denied state subsidies such as for higher education.
Despite these contradictory perspectives, Liberman expressed optimism that the government would see out its full term in office.
Following the dramatic High Court decision on Tuesday striking down the law allowing yeshiva students to gain exemptions from military service, the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties convened an emergency joint meeting in the Knesset on Wednesday morning to discuss their next steps.
UTJ chairman and Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said that the two parties would submit a bill to circumvent the High Court ruling and ensure that the law could not be struck down again.
“The bill will happen, no one will be drafted. Within this law we will insert an override clause so that it will be impossible to annul it,” Litzman said, adding that his party had warned coalition partner and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon during the coalition negotiations that UTJ would insist on such a clause if its enlistment law was struck down.
“He said he wouldn’t stand in the way when it comes to drafting yeshiva students, so I’m not worried,” said Litzman.
Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri painted a darker picture, accusing the High Court of having overthrown the elected government and established its own regime.
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“It can’t be that we run for Knesset, spend lots of money to get elected, and it turns out we are run by the High Court,” said Deri.
“We don’t work for the judges.Someone has changed the system. If the judges want to run for office, they can run.
These are matters of principle that must be decided by the government and by the members of Knesset. I call for returning the power to the Knesset and to let the judges make legal decisions.”
Speaking later in the day at a pre-Rosh Hashana Yisrael Beytenu celebration in Jerusalem, Liberman issued a starkly different message, saying that the High Court ruling was an opportunity to deal with the injustice of having two classes of Israeli citizens, one which serves in the military and one which is exempt from doing so.
Describing the situation as “an injustice,” he said that it reduced national resilience and solidarity which he insisted was the most critical component in the strength of a nation.
Liberman said that his preferred method for dealing with people who refuse to perform military or national service would be to give them a criminal record, although not to jail them, and to deprive them of state subsidies.
“We need to do this wisely.I can give them a criminal record, and deny them all grants and subsidies, so they won’t get money for university, or yeshiva or college, they’ll have to pay full university fees,” the defense minister said.
“There are effective tools to show that someone who refuses to serve has a price to pay, and we will continue to work in this direction.
“The High Court ruling is an opportunity to deal with these injustices. It is a mistake to talk about an override clause, we need to talk about real change,” he said.
Despite the gulf between Liberman’s position and that of UTJ and Shas on what is a matter of fundamental importance for the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Yisrael Beytenu leader expressed optimism that the government could last for its full term.