In Bid to Secure Coalition, Likud Proposes Compromise on Haredi Draft Bill

Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who says he won't join government unless ultra-Orthodox men are drafted, could vote against amended bill - which is expected to pass even without his support

File photo: Avigdor Liberman prepares for a campaign event ahead of election, Tel Aviv, Israel, March 19, 2019.
Moti Milrod

In a bid to resolve one of the main sticking points in the ongoing negotiations to form a new governing coalition after Israel's general election, Likud officials have proposed a compromise on a bill to draft ultra-Orthodox men for military service - a bill that contributed to the last government disbandment - which would allow both ultra-Orthodox politicians and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

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Under the proposed coalition agreements, ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would be allowed to amend the military conscription bill, which passed the first of three required parliamentary votes in July, but former Defense Minister Lieberman, who said he wouldn't accept any changes to it, would be free to vote against it despite government backing.

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Likud officials involved in negotiations to form the next governing coalition, however, said on Tuesday they are concerned that Lieberman wouldn't agree to any compromise on this issue. Ultra-Orthodox parties also seem unwilling to change their position on the proposed bill.

Should the compromise be accepted, an amended version of the bill is expected to pass the remaining Knesset votes with the support of all other coalition members, as Likud officials assess that no party lawmakers would vote against it despite Lieberman's expected objection.

Opposition Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta'al and United Arab List-Balad are also expected to allow the amended bill, which they see as part of an internal Jewish matter, to pass in a vote. Their position is also part of a broader understanding with ultra-Orthodox parties not to interfere in religious matters, such as a recent bill to restrict calls to prayer from mosques.

Lieberman’s bill, drafted by security officials, initially sets a target of drafting 3,348 ultra-Orthodox men into the Israel Defense Forces and 648 into civilian national service. The target would rise by eight percent a year until 2020, after which it would increase by six and a half percent a year. The final target, slated to be hit in 2027, is 6,844 ultra-Orthodox men in military and civilian service.

The bill would also impose financial penalties on yeshivas that don’t meet their enlistment targets. It doesn’t explicitly impose any criminal sanctions, but Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid maintained last year that criminal sanctions were implied by a provision saying the law would expire if yeshivas repeatedly failed to meet the enlistment targets.

But the ultra-Orthodox parties object in principle to the idea that anyone studying Torah should be drafted, and they have numerous specific objections to Lieberman’s bill. In particular, they object to the possibility of the law expiring and leaving yeshiva students vulnerable to criminal sanctions. They say that if the enlistment targets aren’t met, the law should return to the cabinet for further consideration rather than lapsing automatically.