Torah Sages Urge Exit From Coalition if Bill on ultra-Orthodox Draft Passes

Sages insist on changing clause calling for economic sanctions against draft-dodging yeshivas, sources say. Netanyahu due to meet faction chief on Sunday

Ultra-Orthodox men clash with police as they block a highway during a protest against the detention of a member of their community who refuses to serve in the military, in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 12, 2018.
Oded Balilty/AP

The Council of Torah Sages has instructed a faction in the United Torah Judaism party to quit the governing coalition if the Knesset passes the bill on drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces.

To really understand Israel - subscribe to Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented on the possible defection and is due to meet with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Sunday to hear if his faction intends to leave. Litzman heads the Agudat Yisrael faction within United Torah Judaism, which has six seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The council did not release a statement Thursday, but sources who attended a council meeting said the sages insist on changing the clause in the bill that calls for economic sanctions against draft-dodging yeshivas. The council provides spiritual leadership for Agudat Yisrael, a Hasidic faction of ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism.

The party’s Degel Hatorah faction and another ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, party in the governing coalition, Shas, have yet to decide on the issue.

>> The battle over Israel's ultra-Orthodox draft bill descends into petty poltiics | Analysis

The sources said MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism, Agudat Yisrael) was the one who pushed for the change.

A source from Degel Hatorah said that “practically, the bill is something we can live with. But on the declarative level it’s problematic. We’ll make a decision only after the party’s rabbis have seen it.”

This week, the committee to craft new legislation for drafting ultra-Orthodox men published recommendations to set a new draft goal, raise the number of recruited ultra-Orthodox soldiers each year, impose economic sanctions on draft-dodging yeshivas and grant benefits to Haredim who join the army. Sanctions, however, would be suspended for the first two years.

The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gadi Eisenkot, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the recommendations and the Defense Ministry began drafting legislation with the intention of completing the legislation by the end of the summer session.

The committee recommended a goal of drafting 3,996 ultra-Orthodox young men to the military and civil service in 2018, and to raise this number by 8 percent each year until 2020.

It said the yeshivas would have to fulfill at least 95 percent of their draft targets, and recommended expanding sanctions on draft dodgers and deserters, as well as providing incentives for recruits who complete their military service.

At the end of the Knesset’s winter session, the Council of Torah Sages demanded that the bill on the draft be passed with the budget bill. Litzman threatened not to support the budget if the bill on the draft was not passed during the winter session. But Degel Hatorah’s spiritual leaders did not support the ultimatum.