Defense Minister Lieberman Clashes With ultra-Orthodox Parties Over New Army Draft Bill

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to reduce state funding for yeshivas if the ultra-Orthodox don’t meet conscription quotas set by the law. But the two ultra-Orthodox parties oppose this

Interior Minister Arye Dery and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

A bill governing the conscription of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students has been held up for over two weeks due to a fight within the governing coalition over what sanctions it should include.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to reduce state funding for yeshivas if the ultra-Orthodox don’t meet conscription quotas to be set by the law. But the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, oppose this. According to a source involved in the dispute, these parties “aren’t willing under any condition for the law to include economic sanctions.”

The legislation is meant to replace a law that was overturned by the High Court of Justice last September.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a meeting of the heads of all coalition parties for this Sunday. But UTJ Chairman Yaakov Litzman is abroad, and without him it will be hard to reach any agreements on the issue.

The High Court gave the government one year — until September — to replace the law it overturned. But the committee Netanyahu formed to draw up a new law hasn’t been able to find a solution agreeable to all sides.

Consequently, the ultra-Orthodox parties submitted their own bill on the issue. They also threatened not to vote for the 2019 state budget later this year.

Meanwhile, Lieberman sped up work on a rival bill being prepared by Defense Ministry professionals. It was supposed to be unveiled two weeks ago, but was held up until last Tuesday.

The parties agree on most elements of the new bill, including quotas for ultra-Orthodox enlistment that will rise from year to year and refraining from criminal sanctions on yeshiva students who don’t enlist. But Lieberman argues that without financial penalties, yeshiva heads won’t encourage weak students to enlist.