Lapid and Bennett talk during Knesset session
Lapid and Bennett talk during Knesset session Flash 90

Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home / Bayit Yehudi) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who joined together in a “mini-coalition” after the elections to promote several programs to improve the economic status of middle-class Israelis – such as organizing a new government housing venture – have had a major falling out over the issue of how to deal with hareidi religious yeshiva students who refuse draft orders.

Speaking to the Kol Barama radio station (affiliated with Shas), Bennett said that both he and Lapid agreed on most of the points of policy relating to the draft of yeshiva students. “The only question that we still have is – after the four-year implementation period, when the number of yeshiva students is not to exceed 1,800 – how to deal with those who refuse to enlist. The issue is whether or not to criminalize that behavior.”

Bennett stressed that he and the rest of the Jewish Home party were opposed to this. “Everyone knows that we have differences of opinion with Yesh Atid, but we also agree with them on many things. I do understand the drive to impose criminal penalties in these cases,” he said.

We cannot have a situation where such an important issue in the Jewish people will be dealt with in a manner that forces the hareidi population into a corner. It must be done in a process of communicating with them, not be dropped on them from above,” he added.

According to Bennett, the main purpose of the new laws is not to draft religious hareidi Jews into the army, but to get them to go to work. “I don't think there are really 8,000 students in each term who are studying Torah from morning till night every day, as the yeshivas claim,” said Bennett. “We have never had such a thing in the Jewish people. Already 32% of students in first grade are hareidi, which is fine. But clearly the economy will not survive unless most of them go to work.

I think in the long run they will be be absorbed into the army,” said Bennett. “But it must be done in a gradual manner. It is important that the hareidi community be prepared to go to work. We cannot have fewer and fewer working people supporting more and more people,” he added.