Defense Minister:
'We will never surrender to haredi extortion'

Liberman rejects proposed Draft Law compromise aimed at ending coalition crisis, averting snap elections.

David Rosenberg , | updated: 10:52 AM

Avigdor Liberman
Avigdor Liberman
Hillel Meir/TPS

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected efforts to achieve a compromise between the Likud-led coalition government and haredi lawmakers, calling a proposed bill on the draft of haredi men “surrender” to intransigent haredi demands.

On Friday, Liberman tweeted that his Yisrael Beytenu party would not accept a compromise agreement being hammered out between senior Likud officials and the United Torah Judaism party, calling the efforts a “surrender” to haredi ultimatums on the Draft Law.

“The ultimatum of ‘either [retaining the current] draft law or [passing] the budget’ was made by the haredi parties. The ultimatum demanding that a [new] draft law be passed by the 2nd or 3rd of May, or else the government will be dismantled was levelled by the haredi parties.”

“The bill being put together at the moment is not actually a compromise – it’s a letter of surrender to an act of extortion.”

“Anyone who wants to surrender to extortion,” continued Liberman, “may do so. But Yisrael Beytenu will only support a [draft law] bill drawn up by the security establishment and the IDF. When it comes to security, there can be no compromise.”

On Thursday, Liberman lambasted UTJ, in particular Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, claiming that the Israeli government had been hijacked by “extremist elements”.

"In recent days, Israel has been taken captive by a group of extremist elements, who are threatening to drag us all into unnecessary elections, in a difficult security situation, and demand that we surrender to their blackmail," Liberman said.

The coalition crisis began last month, when the UTJ party warned Prime Minister Netanyahu it would not support the passage of the 2019 budget unless the government backed a UTJ-backed amendment to the Draft Law.

Failure to pass the budget could topple the Netanyahu government and lead to snap elections.

Since the establishment of the state in 1948, the IDF has offered draft deferments to Torah scholars.

While only several hundred deferments were issued in 1948-1949, during the War of Independence, the number ballooned over the next three decades as the haredi community grew and the restrictions on eligibility for the deferments were loosened.

By the late 1970s, deferments were offered to all full-time yeshiva students, renewable on a yearly basis. Today, there are some 60,000 registered yeshiva students in Israel eligible for draft deferments.

In the 1990s, successive governments sought to encourage haredi enlistment in either the army or in alternative civilian service. The Tal Committee, appointed in 1999, compiled a list of recommendations ultimately passed into law in 2002, protecting draft exemptions for yeshiva students while providing those looking to join the workforce with alternatives to the full 36-month draft, including an abridged 16-month army service or participation in a year-long civilian national service program.

The Tal Law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012, forcing the Knesset to pass a new Draft Law clarifying the status of yeshiva students.

In 2014, following the establishment of a Likud-led coalition government with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, the Knesset passed a new draft law imposing quotas strictly limiting the number of deferments issued to yeshiva students, and placing sanctions on those who refuse to enlist.

A year later, however, with the fall of the 33rd government and the election of a new Knesset, haredi lawmakers secured the passage of a new draft law amending the 2014 legislation. The new law removed the deferment quotas and effectively removed sanctions on those who fail to enlist.

In 2017, however, the Supreme Court again intervened, striking down the 2015 amendment and turning the matter back to the Knesset for further legislation.

Haredi lawmakers have sought to secure government support for a bill which would, among other things, amend Israel’s Basic Laws to enshrine Torah study as a protected “national value”, thereby circumventing the Supreme Court ruling and guaranteeing draft deferments for yeshiva students remain in place.

But Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party has signaled its intention to vote down any such bill, and has called on the government to reject haredi demands the Ministerial Committee for Legislation give the bill formal coalition backing.

Haredi legislators have in response threatened to block passage of the 2019 budget if their bill is not passed by the Ministerial Committee.

With Prime Minister Netanyahu abroad this week, Likud officials have sought to hammer out a compromise agreement to avert the ongoing coalition crisis.

One framework for a compromise includes passage of an amendment to the draft law which would maintain draft deferments without limit, while including a minimum quota for haredi enlistment. Under the proposal, if the annual quota of 3,800 haredi draftees is not met, the law would expire after five years.