Netanyahu, haredi MKs weigh proposal to end coalition crisis

'We'll join a left-wing gov't if necessary', warn haredi leaders, as PM floats possible compromise to secure passage of budget, Draft Law.

David Rosenberg ,

Yaakov Litzman (l), Binyamin Netanyahu (r)
Yaakov Litzman (l), Binyamin Netanyahu (r)
Hadas Parush/Flash90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and haredi faction leaders are weighing a possible compromise aimed at ending the ongoing coalition crisis, even as haredi MKs warn that they may throw their support behind Labor if their demand are not met, Channel 2 reported Thursday night.

According to the proposed compromise now being considered by the two sides, the new draft law pushed by haredi MKs would be submitted to and approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, thereby requiring coalition partners to back the bill and all but guaranteeing its passage in the Knesset.

Afterwards, the budget would be brought to a vote and passed with haredi support, and only afterwards the draft bill would brought before the Knesset plenum.

In the midst of efforts to end the crisis, officials from the United Torah Judaism party warned that the haredi factions would be willing to back a left-wing coalition if their demands were not met.

“We’ll go with whoever will give us the most in the matters that concern us the most – and that means the draft issue.”

The coalition crisis began last week, when haredi lawmakers warned the Prime Minister that they would refrain from voting for the state budget, potentially denying the government a majority on the critical vote, if legislation securing army deferments for yeshiva students is not passed. Failure to pass the spending plan could lead to the dissolution of the Likud-led government and new elections.

Members of the Shas and United Torah Judaism factions insist that the government promote new draft legislation circumventing a Supreme Court ruling last year which struck down a 2015 law reinstating army deferments for full-time yeshiva students.

For decades, the Supreme Court and state have grappled with the issue of draft deferments, which critics say constitute a de facto exemption from service for the tens of thousands of haredi men who declare Torah study to be their occupation their entire lives.

In 2002, the Knesset passed the Tal Law, based on the findings of the Tal Committee, formed in 1999 to address the issue. The law encouraged yeshiva students to enlist in either the IDF or alternative civilian national service, offering them the option of a reduced 16-month army service or part-time civilian national service programs.

The law also extended the deferment program for full-time yeshiva students by five years. The law was renewed for another five years in 2007, but was nullified by the Supreme Court in 2012.

In 2014, the Knesset passed a new draft law which placed limitations on the number and duration of deferments offered to yeshiva students.

When a new government was formed a year later, haredi lawmakers succeeded in repealing the 2014 law, and restoring the status quo ante, under which all full-time yeshiva students are given deferments so long as they remain in recognized yeshivas.

The Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling tossing out the 2015 amendment effectively struck down the deferment program’s open-ended format. Unless the Knesset addresses the issue with new legislation, thousands of yeshiva students could find themselves required to enlist in the IDF.

Haredi lawmakers have demanded that the Netanyahu government back new legislation aimed at permanently settling the issue and protecting open-ended deferments. One such proposal would declare Torah study as a “national value” of the State of Israel, and protect the right of deferments from future Supreme Court rulings by codifying the declaration as a Basic Law.

The proposal faces opposition from within the coalition, however, from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.

On Thursday, Likud officials warned that haredi demands that the new draft bill be passed before the new spending plan is approved were threatening the coalition’s ability to function, and could lead to early elections.

"The haredim have climbed too far up the tree - the possibility of elections is getting higher," one source told Channel 2.