Israeli ultra-Orthodox Party Says Ready for New Election if Lieberman Insists on Draft Law

Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman is making legislation requiring ultra-Orthodox conscription a condition to joining the government

United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, center.
Olivier Fitoussi

As coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu’s Likud party begin in earnest following last week’s Knesset election, officials with the United Torah Judaism party have said they would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition if ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students don't continue to be exempt from military conscription. If the dispute over legislation mandating the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men is not resolved in the coalition talks, United Torah Judaism would have no problem heading for new elections, the party said Tuesday.

“We will insist that everyone who is studying Torah full time be able to continue studying without interference. We are telling the campaign heads throughout the country to remain on full alert,” officials from ultra-Orthodox party said, implying that they are prepared for new elections.

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Netanyahu would not have a majority government absent the participation of both United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beiteinu in his new coalition, but Yisrael Beiteinu has insisted on passage of legislation mandating the draft of the yeshiva students. On Tuesday, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said that if presented with choice of joining the governing coalition or heading for new elections, it would opt for new elections.

“We are also trying to maintain common sense and rationality on issues of religion and state. Anyone who is not willing [to do the same] will be responsible for this government not being established,” Lieberman said.

United Torah Judaism and Shas, the other ultra-Orthodox party in the Knesset, said they would not compromise in coalition talks over what they called “core issues,” in the face of Lieberman’s conflicting demands. Moshe Gafni, who heads United Torah Judaism’s Degel Hatorah faction, told the ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Neeman if the ultra-Orthodox parties conditions are not met, “there will be no coalition.” The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties said they believed the main obstacle to agreement on a new coalition government is Lieberman, and they plan on creating a united front against him together with the Union of Right-Wing Parties.