Netanyahu Averts Coalition Crisis Over Draft Law by Bringing Ya'alon Into Line

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon pressured to drop insistence on more lenient enforcement of Haredi IDF enlistment; Yesh Atid warns that if Haredim are not drafted into the IDF, 'it puts the continued existence of the coalition at risk.'

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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Intent on averting a coalition crisis over the new draft law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday to drop his objection to the enforcement clause for Haredi draft-dodgers in the Perry Committee’s proposed legislation.

Ya’alon had wanted the final say on imposing criminal sanctions on such ultra-Orthodox evaders − seen as a softer, more “Haredi-friendly” approach than the automatic punishment currently in the proposal − before agreeing to support the bill. But he withdrew his insistence at the prime minister’s direction.

A committee vote on a proposed law could come as early as Tuesday, and is expected to pass to the full Knesset for approval now that Ya'alon has agreed not to hold it up in committee.

A Likud source said Netanyahu had not required Ya’alon to support the controversial clause of the proposed law, just not to block the current version from passing through the Knesset committee headed by MK Yaakov Perry ‏(Yesh Atid‏), which is charged with drawing up a new law that will conscript Haredim into the army. “Ya’alon won’t vote for the clause in its current formulation,” said the Likud source. “The committee’s teams of lawyers, from both sides, will be asked to find a compromise formula that will be acceptable to the defense minister.”

Netanyahu termed the stand-off between the government coalition partners over the issue as a “bogus political crisis,” saying “the gaps aren’t big ones, anyway.” As of Monday evening, Ya’alon was working with Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett to formulate a consensus version of the proposed law.

Before Ya’alon dropped his objection Monday that was keeping the committee stymied on overhauling the country’s army service requirements, Finance Minister Yair Lapid threatened to disband the government. “There will be an equal sharing of the burden,” he said, “or this government will break apart.”

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 that the sanctions be applied automatically by force of law, but 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 Committee so that it is inclined toward the Haredim will break up the coalition. This is a 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, Bennett, spoke in less heated terms, although he is also concerned by the Perry Committee’s lack of progress.

“We are in a 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. “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,” Bennett continued. “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 we will be able to bridge the gap.”

The fallout from what appeared early Monday to be the failure of the Perry Committee to finalize a draft bill unleashed a political storm.

Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni attacked Lapid during a meeting with party Knesset members.

“Amid the drama and threats surrounding the Equality of the Burden Committee, they forget to tell you the truth: These agreements that have been formulated have nothing to do with an equal distribution of the burden [of military service],” said Livni. “It’s hard for me to understand someone who speaks fervently about equality of the burden, calls upon everyone to serve in the army − and in the same breath puts the hesder [army-affiliated] yeshiva students ahead of everyone, after just 17 months.”

She added: “Compromise is not a vulgar word, but this isn’t the way to create equality in the burden [of military service], by discrimination [set] in law.”

Hesder yeshiva students are mostly religious Zionist men who combine their mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces with yeshiva studies in an army-approved framework. The amount of time they spend on active duty in the army as part of this arrangement is less than 17 months, as opposed to secular Israel men who must complete three years of service.

Coalition chairman Yariv Levin ‏(Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu‏) also criticized his party’s 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.

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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: AFP

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