Rabbis’ decision likely to trigger early election

Netanyahu said at his news conference on Tuesday that preventing an early election depended on a compromise being reached on a haredi enlistment bill.

DEGEL HATORAH and Agudat Yisrael councils 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Goldstein)
DEGEL HATORAH and Agudat Yisrael councils 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Goldstein)
Citizens will apparently have to go to an early election in either February or March, because the final meeting that could stop the election from taking place will end without a compromise, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference on Tuesday that preventing an early election depended on a compromise being reached on a haredi enlistment bill, which has already obtained the support of every haredi party except Agudat Yisrael. The government would still have enough votes to pass the bill without Agudah’s three MKs, but Netanyahu said during a meeting of coalition heads on Sunday that he was not prepared to pass a bill if one coalition party opposed it.
Sources in Likud had expressed hope this week that Agudat Yisrael’s rabbis could be persuaded to back the bill and prevent the election. But Agudat Yisrael officials said their rabbis are deeply opposed to a clause in the current version of the bill, which will lead its Council of Torah Sages to reject the legislation when it meets on Sunday night.
According to sources in Agudah, the grand rabbis of the various hassidic communities that make up the party vehemently object to the clause in the current draft bill that would see the law automatically annulled if enlistment targets are not met for three years in a row.
The rabbis view this clause as totally unacceptable and tantamount to agreeing to the principal of criminal sanctions against yeshiva students, since should the law be annulled all yeshiva students would be required to enlist, with failure to do so punishable by imprisonment.
The draft law does provide for a 12-month period after the law lapses to draft new legislation, but the Agudah grand rabbis say the principle remains the same and are worried that the High Court of Justice will strike down any new law once again.
Should Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has led the effort to draft the new law, refuse to make concessions on this clause, it would be hard to see Agudah backing down, meaning the coalition would become unworkable. A source close to Liberman told the Post on Thursday night that Liberman was not going to give in to Agudah’s rabbis.
In an interview with haredi radio station Kol Hai on Sunday, coalition chairman MK David Amsalem of Likud called on the haredi MKs to bring a proposal to him that is “agreed upon by all,” saying that “the question of elections depends upon this. If there is no agreement from all the haredim on this law, there is no reason to approve it.”
It is possible that Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages could demand further concessions on the draft bill instead of rejecting it outright, but whether Liberman will agree to such demands is questionable.
According to one of the sources in Agudah and another well-placed source, the majority of the grand rabbis would be prepared to swallow the enlistment targets set out in the bill and even the financial sanctions against the general yeshiva budget for failing to meet those targets, viewing them as relatively soft, and which could be offset by diverting money to yeshiva students through other channels.
In August, the High Court gave the government a four-month extension to pass new haredi enlistment legislation, a deadline that ends December 2. In the event that the Knesset is dissolved, the court would likely have to grant a further extension since the alternative would be the drafting en masse of thousands of haredi youths, which the IDF cannot absorb, and which the haredi leadership would stridently resist.
Elections must be held on a Tuesday 90 to 150 days after the Knesset is dissolved, and they are traditionally held as soon as possible in that time frame. If the Knesset is dissolved in the last week of November, just ahead of the December 2 deadline to pass the bill, the earliest possible election date would be February 26.