Key Coalition Lawmaker Threatens to Bring Down Government Over ultra-Orthodox Draft Bill

Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism says he will no longer vote for the government’s ‘delusional’ bills on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students

Jonathan Lis
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Member of Knesset Moshe Gafni and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in the Knesset on February 27, 2018.
Member of Knesset Moshe Gafni and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in the Knesset on February 27, 2018.Credit: אוליבייה פיטוסי
Jonathan Lis

A prominent member of the governing coalition announced Tuesday that he will no longer vote for the coalition’s “delusional” legislation. MK Moshe Gaftni (United Torah Judaism) issued his threat at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee, of which he is chairman, in response to objections from other coalition parties to two bills granting draft deferrals to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. UTJ and fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas, wanted both bills to be submitted for the first of several Knesset votes Wednesday.

Gafni said UTJ and Shas would accept either of two alternatives. The first is an amendment to the existing conscription law — which the High Court of Justice struck down as unconstitutional in September, and gave the government a year to replace — that would let the Knesset override the court’s decisions. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the Kulanu party, objected to this, but said “he’d support any other bill we brought,” Gafni recalled.

Next, the ultra-Orthodox parties proposed a Basic Law, the equivalent of a constitutional law, that would let full-time yeshiva students defer army service. "But Yisrael Beiteinu objects, though it would apparently have agreed to the override provision. So we’re stuck between them,” Gafni complained, referring to the party headed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Therefore, Gafni said, “I will no longer vote for the delusional bills you bring. I’ve voted for them until now, I was part of this, all kinds of delusional bills that you brought. Until now, in defiance of our own positions, we went along with these bills because we understood that we’re part of a coalition and everyone has interests. But I will no longer vote for delusional bills.”

Later, in an interview with Israel Radio, he said he hadn’t coordinated this position with party colleagues or with the chairman of Shas, Interior Minister Arye Dery, “but I hope they’ll join me. This is a real crisis, not a mini-crisis. I’ll topple the coalition over this bill. The one who created this crisis is the High Court, which doesn’t understand the value of Torah study.”

UTJ and Shas have previously threatened to thwart passage of the annual budget, scheduled for Knesset voting in two weeks, if the Haredi conscription problem isn’t solved.

The proposed Basic Law would declare that studying Torah is more important than equality under the law, and would thus preclude the court from overturning draft deferrals for yeshiva students on the grounds that they violate equality. The amended conscription law would let yeshiva students defer army service until age 26.