Lieberman Denies Granting Military Exemptions to ultra-Orthodox as Defense Minister

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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File photo: Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman (L) and his adviser on ultra-Orthodox issues Avi Abuhatzeira visiting the Western Wall, 2013.
File photo: Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman (L) and his adviser on ultra-Orthodox issues Avi Abuhatzeira visiting the Western Wall, 2013. Credit: Oren Nachshon
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Former Defense Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman dismissed Monday a Haaretz investigation that found he had granted hundreds of exemptions from military service to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students when he was in office.

"Whoever says the Defense Minister's Office grants exemptions from military duty deserves the title of knight of stupidity. The Defense Minister's Office cannot, even if it wanted to, exempt anyone from service," Lieberman said on Monday.

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Haaretz reported Monday that Avi Abuhatzeira, Lieberman’s adviser on ultra-Orthodox issues, used to send his requests for draft exemptions directly to Meitav, the military unit responsible for the screening and placing draftees.

According to the accounts by sources who spoke to Haaretz, Abuhatzeira, who was not only an aide to Lieberman but also a confidant, was the key player in the arrangement. He is said to have received the various requests from Haredim and was involved in obtaining exemptions on an almost daily basis.

During Lieberman’s tenure as defense minister, the offices of all of the ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset passed along dozens of requests for exemptions to Lieberman’s office and in most cases, Abuhatzeira was successful in obtaining a draft exemption, the sources said.

Among those whom Abuhatzeira assisted were the son of an ultra-Orthodox politician and a man well-known in the Haredi community who had submitted forged documents to the army and who later received a medical exemption from the draft after Abuhatzeira intervened.

During Lieberman’s term the army also granted hundreds of exemptions to members of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem Faction, even as Lieberman was repeatedly railing against the faction’s demonstrations. At the same time, series of regulatory easements to postpone the conscription of yeshiva students were implemented.  

Following the Haaretz investigation, Labor-Gesher lawmaker Omer Bar-Lev asked the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Gabi Ashkenazy, to convene the panel to discuss the findings.

Bar-Lev demanded that Lieberman provide the Knesset committee with explanations about the claims that the then-defense minister had provided Haredi lawmakers with a direct channel to his office and that young men with connections, including sons of politicians, rabbis and other key ultra-Orthodox figures were granted exemptions and other forms of preferential treatment.

Based on Haaretz findings, Labor-Gesher released Tuesday a new video attacking Lieberman and portraying him as one who partnered with the Ultra-orthodox community.

"Lieberman seeks to deceive his voters and hand out exemptions from military service to the Haredim, be a good friend to [the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party] Arye Dery and serve as Netanyahu's puppet," the video says. "Lieberman works for the Haredim. Lieberman doesn't stick to his word. Lieberman is fooling you."

After publishing the video, Labor said that "Lieberman and his office provided exemptions from military service to people close to the Haredim while breaching his voters' trust. Lieberman is a main actor in Netanyahu's show. All his actions have been deceptive and intended to take votes from the center-left to the right. It's been proven anew that Lieberman cannot be trusted and is not a part of the camp that seeks hope and change."

Taking to Twitter, Labor lawmaker Merav Michaeli also slammed Lieberman saying the former defense minister is "a liberal who opposes rights for the gay community, a 'secular person' who supports transferring funds to the yeshivas and now a 'fighter for the draft law,' who according to a Haaretz investigation grants exemptions to the Haredim."

United Torah Judaism released a video showing Lieberman as someone suffering from a split personality. The clip begins with an explanation about the disorder: "A split personality is a psychological disorder. A person with this disorder has more than one personality during a certain period of their life." The video later presents the contradictions emanating from Lieberman's remarks against the ultra-Orthodox public as opposed to his work on the ground for their behalf.   

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