Lapid Threatens to Topple Government Unless ultra-Orthodox Dealt Equal Share of IDF Burden

Knesset panel tasked with finding solution to Haredi draft ends marathon talks early after failing to reach agreement on whether criminal charges should be applied to those who evade draft.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Following the failure of a Knesset panel to overhaul the country's army service requirements, Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Monday threatened to disband the government, saying, "There will be an equal sharing of the burden – or this government will break apart."

Lapid made the remarks signaling a possible coalition crisis during a meeting of his Yesh Atid faction. He was responding to the breakdown overnight Monday of the marathon talks held by the Perry Committee – the Israeli panel led by Yesh Atid Minister Jacob Perry that was tasked with formulating legislation that would provide guidelines for drafting the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) into the army and national service.

The committee's talks broke down after members reached a stalemate over whether to impose criminal sanctions on Haredim who do not enlist.

Perry had insisted on this, but Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu) wanted to have the final say on whether to impose criminal sanctions on draft evaders. Perry decided to adjourn the meeting after consulting with Lapid.

“If anyone thinks I entered politics to resolve the economic catastrophe left by the previous government, then he doesn’t understand why we're here,” Lapid told his party members.

“Anyone who thinks that we’ll fold on the issue of dividing the burden more equally doesn’t know us," Lapid continued. "Any effort to sabotage the Perry's Committee so that it is inclined toward the Haredim will break up the coalition. This is an historic opportunity to heal the bleeding wound at the heart of Israeli society. Whoever foils this effort to profit politically is committing a sin against Zionism and against the Israel Defense Forces.

“I call on Likud-Beiteinu to get a hold of itself, behave like a ruling party is supposed to behave, and stop playing games,” Lapid said. “It puts the existence of this government at risk.”

Lapid's ally in Habayit Hayehudi, Economic and Labor Minister Naftali Bennett, spoke in less heated terms, although he is also concerned by the Perry Committee's lack of progress.

“We are in an historic process of gradually integrating the Haredi public into Israeli society in the realms of military service, national service and, in particular, the realm of employment,” Bennett said Monday. “Within weeks we have made progress on issues that no one wanted to touch for 65 years, and the road is strewn with potholes.

“I urge everyone not to lose control. We have to work hard until we reach a solution. We don’t want to see Military Police battalions raiding Bnei Brak, but we’ll have to create a system of incentives that will connect the Haredi public to Israeli society. I’m convinced will be able to bridge the gap.”

The fallout from the failure of the Perry Committee to finalize a draft bill unleashed a political storm on Monday.

Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu) criticized its coalition partner, Yesh Atid.

“The dispute that the heads of Yesh Atid are trying to create is artificial, irrelevant, and unnecessarily delays the advancement of a law that will balance the defense burden,” Levin said. “Aggressive statements are inappropriate, and the proposal for balancing the burden will proceed exactly in accordance with the principles set forth in the coalition agreement.”

Members of the Perry Committee claimed that some of Lapid’s demands on the conscription issue contravene the coalition agreement, the spirit of the committee and some legal opinions submitted to the panel.

Ya’alon hinted at a possible crisis on Sunday when he said, “The atmosphere of hate and delegitimization is turning the wheel backward.”

Yesh Atid, meanwhile, was furious at Ya’alon. “The conduct of the Likud-Beiteinu ministers during the committee debates was a blatant violation of the coalition agreement, and poses a risk that we’ll miss this historic opportunity to bring about a sharing of the defense and economic burden,” a Yesh Atid official said.

Yesh Atid sources underscored that if Haredim are not drafted into the IDF, “it puts the continued existence of the coalition at risk.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, right, and Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry.Credit: Emil Salman
A ceremony marking the end of an IDF ultra-Orthodox unit's basic training, Feb. 2012.Credit: Alex Levac