Ultra-Orthodox Lawmaker to Pressure Netanyahu on Shielding Yeshiva Students From Army Draft

United Torah Judaism chairman says his party won't back the 2019 Knesset budget without a new military draft bill

Chaim Levinson
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United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset meeting, 2017.
United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset meeting, 2017. Credit: olivier fitoussi
Chaim Levinson

United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman plans to demand that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu push through a new military draft bill, one that would shield ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from the draft, and to make this a condition of his party’s support for the 2019 budget in the Knesset.

Last September the High Court of Justice struck down the legislation from 2015 that sought to delay efforts to increase the rate of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) conscription. The court gave the Knesset a year to revamp the law, saying the current law is discriminatory and doesn’t achieve the goal of reducing the unequal sharing of the burden of military service.

Netanyahu is seeking to get preliminary approval for the 2019 budget by the end of the Knesset’s winter session next month, more than half a year before the usual date of late October and a year before the absolute latest date the budget can be approved. The budget was approved by the cabinet last month. Political sources note that finalizing the budget sometime in the summer would convey that the coalition is stable.

In response to the High Court’s action on the existing law, Netanyahu established a committee headed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to prepare a new bill. Representatives of all the coalition parties sit on the committee, but they have failed to reach even the most basic agreement on the new legislation and have yet to formulate a first draft. Last week Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that he had set up his own task force in his ministry headed by the defense establishment’s legal adviser, Itay Ofir, to write up the legislation and submit it to the Knesset.

Lieberman’s announcement is among the obstacles he is expected to place on the legislative process, since he and the rest of his Yisrael Beiteinu party have a contrary approach toward the Haredi position on issues of religion and state. Yisrael Beiteinu voted against the Minimarkets Law that governs business closures on Shabbat, and Knesset faction head MK Robert Ilatov objected to the bill allowing anyone to have their financial disputes arbitrated by the state rabbinical courts, claiming that the bill violated his party’s coalition agreement.

After the draft law was nixed, Shas chief Arye Dery said the premier had agreed to back a new law immune to High Court interference.