Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz issued a clear ultimatum to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday afternoon to adopt new draft law proposals if he wants to keep Kadima in the coalition.
Mofaz’s ultimatum puts the Prime Minister on the spot to choose between Kadima and hareidi religious parties, which are fiercely opposed to the proposed change and have been a pillar of the coalition.
Mofaz, backed by Israeli media, has forced the issue of Torah learning vis-à-vis enlistment in the IDF. Netanyahu can easily keep his government coalition without Kadima, but the fallout from failing to back the proposals for a new draft law could weaken support among secular voters who have voted for the Likud.
The Prime Minister’s challenge now is to find a compromise that might be acceptable to Kadima and to those who support the decades-old policy of allowing draft deferments for those who want to pursue Torah studies.
Mofaz issued his announcement three hours after Kadima Knesset Member Yochanan Plesner announced the recommendations of a committee that he headed to come up with an alternative to the Tal Law. The Tal Law expires at the end of the month and has been the basis for several years for draft exemptions while trying to encourage more enlistments in the hareidi religious community.
Mofaz did not mince any words. He called Prime Minister Netanyahu “irresponsible” for “blatantly” violating a coalition agreement and for dissolving the draft law committee last week. He stated, “I expect the Prime Minister to adopt the principles in the report.”
Working in Netanyahu's favor is the lack of balance in the draft law proposal concerning obligations of the Arab sector. MK Plesner Wednesday outlined clear sanctions against hareidi religious Jews who do not enlist, except for 1,500 exceptional Torah students who would be exempt every year.
Plesner did not outline specific sanctions against Arabs who refuse to enlist in "national service” and simply said that the government and the IDF must find a proper framework for Arabs to participate in military or civilian service.
He also did not mention the growing phenomenon of draft-dodging among secular Israeli Jews.
Yisrael Beitenu, which wants a universal draft, may come to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defense. David Rotem, one of its leading MKs, said he would oppose the proposed change because it largely omitted the Arab sector.
Several hareidi religious politicians charged that the draft law recommendations are a camouflage for an attempt to stop government funding for yeshivas. Plesner suggested that yeshivas whose students do not enlist may be forced to close their doors.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has not yet responded to Plesner’s proposal and Mofaz’s ultimatum and he presumably will first talk with hareidi religious party leaders as well as with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beitenu.