Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox Coalition Partner Reach Compromise on Draft Bill

Netanyahu promises to work to advance the law, which lies at the center of a coalition crisis that could lead to snap elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Health Ministry Yaakov Litzman, January 12, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Yisrael approved a compromise on the contentious ultra-Orthodox draft bill on Sunday night. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to work to advance the law, which would exempt Haredi yeshiva students from army service.

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According to the compromise, which still needs to be approved by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the law will be brought to a preliminary reading during the current Knesset session and will continue in following sessions. Lieberman, who leads the Yisrael Beitanu party, originally opposed the law.

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu met with United Torah Judaism Chairman Yaakov Litzman and discussed the details of the draft bill. After the meeting, confidants of Litzman said they were optimistic about the chances for a proposed compromise on the bill to go through.

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.

Litzman demanded Netanyahu push the bill through Knesset, and made this a condition of his party’s support for the 2019 budget in the Knesset. If a compromise was not reached on the bill and the budget, United Torah Judaism would dissolve the coalition, leading to snap elections.