The deepening coalition crisis over passing a new law for Haredi exemptions from IDF service intensified on Wednesday, with United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman declaring he will not support the 2019 state budget as long as the new legislation is not approved.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was summoning the parties for discussions to try to resolve the dispute, media reports said on Wednesday night.
Litzman, in a statement, said that “in accordance with the instructions of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael ‘to pass the yeshiva students enlistment law before the budget is approved,’ I will not be able to support the state budget as long as the enlistment law is not passed.”
Litzman was referencing a decision of the Council of Torah Sages of the hassidic Agudat Yisrael party last week, taken by the grand rabbis of the hassidic groups represented in the party. Agudat Yisrael is part of UTJ.
“The enlistment law is an inseparable part of the coalition agreement and we expect that all factions of the coalition support this law, if they want the coalition to continue,” Litzman said.
The UTJ-Shas bill, meant to continue the haredi exemption from military service, was not on Wednesday’s Knesset agenda, despite the demands of the Haredi parties.
In light of the growing threats by UTJ in particular against the government over this issue, Netanyahu scheduled a meeting with the heads of UTJ and Shas for late Wednesday night to try and find a solution to the crisis.
In response to Litzman’s threats, Defense Minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tweeted: “The enlistment bill is a draft-dodging bill. UTJ’s decision is nothing less than blackmail. Yisrael Beytenu will not give in and will not allow this to happen.”
Yisrael Beytenu has vowed not to support the bill proposed by UTJ and Shas that would create a Basic Law establishing the principle of Torah study as a “supreme value” in the State of Israel, and allowing anyone who engages in Torah study for an extended period to do so in lieu of military service. If the bill were to go to a vote, Yisrael Beytenu said, its MKs will vote against it, including Aliya and Integration Minister Sofa Landver, which would mean her resignation from the cabinet.
The defense minister wants his ministry to draft a bill on the matter that prioritizes the nation’s security.
On Tuesday, MK Moshe Gafni who heads Degel Hatorah, the second half of UTJ along with Agudat Yisrael, also made threats against the coalition, saying that if the “enlistment bill” is not brought for a preliminary vote in the plenum on Wednesday, his party will stop voting with the coalition and its “crazy” legislation.
Meanwhile, the opposition pulled three bills from Wednesday’s agenda that would disperse the Knesset and call an early election.