Israel's Coalition Crisis: Netanyahu's Partners Double Down and Decry 'Fake Leadership'

Yisrael Beiteinu MKs say party will quit the government only if the bill exempting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from military service becomes law

Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, 2015
Olivier Fitoussi

All of Yisrael Beiteinu’s Knesset members, including Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, will vote against the compromise bill on exempting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from military service, said Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a meaning of the party’s MKs on Monday afternoon.

It is still unclear whether Lieberman's opposition to the bill is the final straw that will lead to the break-up of the coalition government and snap elections. 

“This is a classic fake law, theater of the absurd,” Lieberman added. But Lieberman made it clear that his party would leave the government coalition unless the bill passed its final reading in the Knesset and became law, and not just because it passes a preliminary vote.

The government coalition has enough votes to pass the bill without Yisrael Beiteinu, and now the ball is in the court of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party. Earlier, a number of Kulanu MKs said they would not support the bill if Lieberman did not support it.

Yisrael Beitenu MKs also said Monday their party would vote against the compromise reached Sunday night between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ultra-orthodox coalition parties regarding the contentious haredi draft bill.

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu called on all coalition partners, "chiefly among them Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to remain in the government and continue this partnership to ensure security, prosperity and stability for the State of Israel."

Education Minister and leader of Habayit Hayehudi party Naftali Bennett spoke after Lieberman and maintained the current impasse is a "fake crisis."

"It's not only a fake crisis," he said, "there is fake leadership here, which prefers chasing after polls to telling voters the truth." Bennett called on all coalition members "to be leaders." "Let's do the right thing for Israel," he said, "and let's continue to have a good national government."

The controversial bill lies at the center of a conflict between the ultra-orthodox parties and Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, which vehemently opposes the current draft. Both sides have threatened to disband the coalition if their demands regarding the bill are not met, which would prompt a snap election. Israel's next election is currently scheduled for November 2019.

Yisrael Beitenu party whip MK Robert Ilatov, speaking on Israeli TV, said his party plans to vote against the compromise. "I think the bill should come from a professional source at the Defense Ministry," he said.

The bill was approved on Sunday morning by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who heads the panel, said the bill would be coordinated with the Defense Ministry. Ilatov earlier said that his party would appeal the committee's vote to prevent the bill from being sent to the Knesset for votes.

MK Oded Forer of Yisrael Beiteinu told Israel Radio on Sunday morning that his party would withdraw from the governing coalition if the bill becomes law.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria ruled out the possibility that the bill would be passed without Yisrael Beiteinu's backing, saying her centrist party's support is contingent on Lieberman's approval.

Sunday night The Council of Torah Sages of United Torah Judaism approved compromise on the draft bill on Sunday night. Netanyahu promised to work to advance the law, which would exempt Haredi yeshiva students from military service.

According to the compromise, which was not approved by Lieberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the leader of Kulanu, 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 bill being promoted would give military exemption to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students who request it.

In September 2017, the High Court of Justice struck down the previous draft law passed in 2015 that sought to delay efforts to increase the rate of ultra-Orthodox conscription. The High Court gave the Knesset a year to revamp the law, saying the current law is discriminatory and does not achieve the goal of reducing the unequal sharing of the burden of military service. If the Knesset does not pass a new bill on Haredi conscription by September, the military would be required to draft most yeshiva students.