'Haredi Draft Law' in jeopardy as Yesh Atid vows to vote against

Former Finance Minister Yair Lapid blasts draft bill he previously backed, as court-imposed deadline nears.

Hezki Baruch ,

Yair Lapid at press conference
Yair Lapid at press conference
Hezki Baruch

MK Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, denounced the Haredi Draft Law on Monday, vowing to oppose the proposed law he once backed.

Speaking at a press conference in the Knesset Monday afternoon, Lapid said that the Yesh Atid party would vote against the draft bill if it is brought to a vote, despite having voted in favor of the bill during its first reading.

Lapid echoed concerns voiced by the Yisrael Beytenu party, which bolted from the government last month over a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, that a future Likud-led government could compensate haredi yeshivas which lose funding for failing to meet IDF induction quotas – effectively nullifying the financial sanctions included in the draft bill.

“One month ago, I stood here and demanded that Netanyahu publicly promise that the haredim would not the haredim would not get financial compensation as part of a deal in exchange for [passing] the draft law.”

The Yesh Atid chairman claimed that such a deal had been struck, and that the enforcement provisions of the draft law would be effectively neutralized.

“This is what they guaranteed the haredim. They said to [the haredi parties]: ‘Don’t worry about the financial sanctions, we’ll give you the money under the table.’”

“This isn’t a draft law – it’s a fund-raising law,” continued Lapid. “We will not support a situation where draft-dodgers get money from the government – where our tax money goes to fund people evading the draft. We’re done waiting and we’re done being suckers for them. Yesh Atid will vote against the Draft Law. We will go to elections. And after the elections, a government which I lead will pass a draft law without any deals or tricks.”

The current bill under consideration, sometimes referred to as the “Haredi Draft Law”, was drawn up by a panel of defense establishment officials at the behest of Yisrael Beytenu chief and former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, prior to his party’s departure from the government.

The bill would largely preserve the open-ended draft deferments for full-time yeshiva students, while imposing induction quotas on both individual yeshivas and the haredi sector as a whole, with financial sanctions on yeshivas which fail to meet the quotas. If the haredi sector as a whole fails to meet the quota, the law will be automatically nullified.

Both Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, then a coalition partner, voted in favor of the bill during its first reading in the Knesset in July, which passed by a margin of 63 to 39, over the opposition of the coalition’s haredi partners.

On Monday, however, Yisrael Beytenu hinted that it would oppose the bill in its second reading, accusing the Likud of promising haredi lawmakers that it would circumvent the law’s financial sanctions on yeshivas which fail to meet enlistment quotas by offering supplemental funding of those same institutions.

Without the support of Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid, the coalition is unlikely to be able to pass the draft bill, given the opposition of the government’s 13 haredi Knesset members. The coalition was reduced to a razor-thin 61-seat majority (out of 120 seats total in the Knesset) last month when Yisrael Beytenu left the government.

If the government cannot pass the bill, it may be forced to turn again to the Supreme Court for an extension on an order throwing out the 2015 draft law. In 2017, the court tossed out the 2015 draft law, passed at the behest of the haredi factions and replacing a 2014 law which had been backed by Yesh Atid.

At the time, the court gave the government one year to pass a replacement law, but the failure to reach an agreement between haredi lawmakers and Yisrael Beytenu forced the government to request two extensions from the court.

The court has delayed implementation of its ruling against the 2015 law until January 15th, but has said the second extension will be the last, pressuring the government to pass a replacement law in the next few weeks.