Likelihood of early election increases as Haredi leaders reject military draft compromise

The Agudath Israel MKs have been instructed by their faction’s Council of Torah Sages to insist that the military draft bill regarding yeshiva students become a law before next year’s budget is approved. The Council of Torah Sages’ decision increases the likelihood of Israel heading to the polls in the summer due to the Israeli finance minister’s ultimatum.
Litzman and Netanyahu Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

In a letter sent to Agudath Israel MKs on Sunday, the Council of Torah Sages of the faction instructed the lawmakers to insist that the bill seeking to secure military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students become a law before next year’s state budget is approved.

“I’ve been asked to inform you that our Council of Torah Sages has decided to pass the yeshiva student military draft law before the approval of the budget,” the council secretary wrote in the letter. “There’s not been any change and you must act in accordance with this decision.”

Agudath Israel makes up half of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, which holds six seats in the coalition. The decision by the faction’s Council of Torah Sages means that the compromise bill that Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked drafted in an attempt to decrease the possibility of an early election has been rejected.

Last week, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon threatened to resign if the budget is not passed by Passover, which begins on March 30. “The nation of Israel will sit down for Passover Eve with a budget or without a finance minister,” Kahlon said on Monday. In response, UTJ leader Moshe Gafni said: “So there will be a Passover Eve without a finance minister.”

Earlier today, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman skipped this week’s meeting of coalition party heads over the disagreements regarding the bill. Due to their absence, the meeting was adjourned after 20 minutes.

On Sunday morning, Netanyahu said that he will continue to try to prevent the dissolution of his government but stressed that having a narrow majority coalition is “not an option.”

“One thing is clear - we cannot maintain a 61-member coalition,” Netanyahu said, alluding to Liberman’s threats to quit the government unless a solution to the military draft bill dispute is found. Netanyahu proceeded to accuse members of his own Likud party of sabotaging the negotiations. He then reiterated that he still wants the current government to finish its term but stressed, “For that to happen, all parties must reach an agreement and choose to carry on together.”

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