Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman responded on Sunday evening to the threat posed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, that should the Charedi parties not be able to propose a agreed upon amendment to the IDF Draft Law within the next two weeks, then Netanyahu would call for elections.
The ultimatum was made by Netanyahu earlier on Sunday and Liitzman attempted to defuse the situation. “The passing of a rectified conscription law was one of the seminal agreements made in coalition talks, it forms the pillar of this coalition,” said Litzman.
“We have no desire to go to elections, but we are unable to compromise on such a fundamental issue that touches on all of our principles of guarding the status of the yeshiva students who declare that the Torah is their profession. The various proposals will be brought before the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. What they decide, that is what we will do.”
A request to continue with a smaller coalition majority, excluding Agudas Yisrael, was rejected. The Prime Minister said, “it’s all or none”, explaining if Agudas Yisrael pulls out as it threatens, he will call for elections.
The current draft law, which the Shlita of the Moetzas Gedolei Torah of Agudas Yisrael find objectionable, is according to most, including HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita, the best possible deal at the moment and this is not the time to leave the coalition. According to all assessments, if Netanyahu moves to elections, the chareidim in the next government will not find themselves in as friendly as an environment in Knesset, possibly even in the opposition again. Many voters will be angered over bringing down the coalition due to Agudas Yisrael’s stiff-necked policy, as most feel the draft bill is just.
Realizing the reality of the current situation, Degel Hatorah Chairman MK Moshe Gafne met with HaGaon HaRav Gershon Edelstein Shlita on Monday morning, explaining the situation to the Gadol, who heads Degel’s Moetzas Gedolei Torah. Also present was HaGaon HaRav Natan Zuchovsky, and they spoke for about an hour, reviewing the coalition’s current situation vis-à-vis the chareidi factions and the position of the Admorim of Agudas Yisrael, who remain tenacious in their opinion against the draft law, and their willingness to address early elections as a result.
Degel Hatorah and Shas are on board, willing to pass the current version of the law, with the understanding certain objectionable clauses may be amended after it is passed. However, Agudas Yisrael is not partner to this opinion, with Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman adamant in his refusal to back the draft law.
Gafne has already begun to be maspid the coalition, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Agudas Yisrael. Both Degel and Shas feel the current coalition is one the chareidim can work with, and one cannot know what new elections will bring, most likely a less chareidi-friendly environment. PM Netanyahu is relying on this when issuing his ultimatum, but Agudas Yisrael is not flinching, nor is the Prime Minister, so to the chagrin of all involved, elections may be the next hurdle faced by the chareidi factions in Knesset.
Political considerations aside, the High Court of Justice has granted the government an extension in legislating a new draft law, moving the deadline from September 12, 2018 to December 2, 2018. The court was clear, and this was the last extension.
However, if Mr. Netanyahu announces early elections, the draft bill will not be voted into law and the fate of the tens of thousands of lomdei torah will be in the less sympathetic hands of the High Court of Justice. In addition, once the December 2nd deadline passes and a new law has not been legislated, all of the bnei torah will legally be AWOL from the military and military police will have the option of beginning to send out draft notices and making arrests. Without a draft law, draft eligible males in beis medrash no longer have a legal status permitting them from not serving in the military.
In short, Agudas Yisrael is actually jeopardizing the fate of the tens of thousands of lomdei torah in Eretz Yisrael, seemingly based on a feeling the Prime Minister would not dare calling early elections. This is a calculated risk, albeit a poor one in the eyes of most, especially among leaders and members of the Shas and Degel Hatorah factions in Knesset. In all fairness to the Admorim Shlita, their decision is based on the situation explained to them by their Knesset representatives, in this case, Yaakov Litzman, Meir Porush, Menachem Eliezer Moses and Yisrael Eichler. The same is true regarding the Moetzas Gedolei Torah of Degel and Shas, as the elected officials are the ones in the game, and they explain the situation to their gedolim as they want the gedolim to understand it. In this case, clearly Litzman does not wish to bend and one can opine he has used his powers of persuasion to influence the decision of the admorim as presently, there are no signs of flexibility and the ball remains in Agudas’ court.
Perhaps the admorim will convene again before the prime minister’s deadline expires, or not; but for now, the sand in the coalition’s hourglass is rapidly running down as neither side appears willing to change its position.