Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to respond to the departure of Kadima from the national unity government because of differences over legislation to draft the ultra-Orthodox by submitting his own party’s conscription bill on Sunday.
A report on the Walla! news site claims that Netanyahu, unfazed by the loss of Kadima from his governing coalition, intends to table a bill following the guidelines written by Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon of Likud — rather than the ones that Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner submitted to the government as part of the deal that brought the Knesset’s largest party into the prime minister’s coalition some 10 weeks ago. It was Netanyahu’s dismantling of the committee that Plesner chaired that created the coalition crisis that ultimately led to Kadima’s exit.
According to Ya’alon’s recommendations, draft-eligible ultra-Orthodox men will be able to choose either military or civil service options between the ages of 18 and 22, with financial incentives for serving; at the age of 26, however, if they have not served, they will suffer financial sanctions. There will also be national service quotas for Israeli Arabs.
Before Ya’alon’s recommendations are brought to a vote in the Knesset, though, Yisrael Beytenu will submit its own bill on Wednesday — calling for a universal draft, including the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs, at the age of 18. Yisrael Beytenu’s bill would impose sanctions on draft dodgers immediately, although it would also reward those who serve with grants for higher education. In addition, draft exemptions would be awarded to 1,000 exceptional Torah scholars each year — the same as the number of exceptional athletes and artists who currently receive such exemptions.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, said Tuesday that he would not issue an ultimatum to the prime minister regarding particulars of new draft legislation, and expressed confidence that the remaining coalition would last for several more months, at least.
Kadima MKs voted by a wide margin to leave the Likud-led coalition Tuesday evening after weeks of turmoil over the universal draft law.
Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz rejected proposals put forward by Netanyahu earlier Tuesday.
Mofaz told reporters that Netanyahu had chosen his own interests above the interests of the country – and that despite the political price the Kadima leader paid, he was pursuing equality.
“[Netanyahu] chose his own interests above the interests of the Israeli people,” he said. “He chose to abandon the young people of our country.”
“Without a sharing of the burden of army duty, there can be no social justice –- and without social justice, there would be no sharing of the burden of army duty,” Mofaz said. He added that changing the draft age to 26 would not happen under his watch.
“I was ready for historic compromises, but I had a red line, which I could not cross,” he said.
Mofaz said Netanyahu had “sided with the draft-dodgers over those who carry the national burden.”
Netanyahu responded by saying he was sorry Kadima chose to leave the government. “We were very close to a significant change in the distribution of the national burden,” he said in a letter. “I explained to you that the only way to implement this in the field would be gradually and without tearing the Israeli society apart, especially during a period of time in which Israel finds itself in in front of many significant challenges. I will continue to work to create a responsible solution Israeli society expects.”
During the meeting, Mofaz sent a letter to Netanyahu saying he had missed a historic chance.
“Unfortunately, you decided not to take this opportunity,” he wrote. “Through narrow political considerations you chose a covenant with the ultra-Orthodox instead of with the Zionist majority.”
“There is a difference between compromise and blinding your eyes,” Mofaz told reporters later. “I turned every stone” in the search for a workable agreement.
Three Kadima MKs voted against the departure from the coalition: Otniel Schneller, Avi Dichter, and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich.
“I don’t think we exhausted the process,” Berkovich said. “This was not a historical process, it was a political process. I felt there was a bit of hatred for the ultra-Orthodox.”
Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who had threatened to leave Kadima when it joined the coalition in May, said he was happy to see his party end its “strange collaboration with this evil government.”
Opposition head Shelly Yachimovich praised the move and called for early elections.
“Kadima has retired from the coalition and it’s the end of the shameful, miserable union between it and Netanyahu,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Before the vote by the Kadima faction to leave the government, Mofaz claimed he had no choice but to bolt.
“With great distress, I say there’s no escape but to take the decision to leave the coalition,” Mofaz said at the start of the meeting. “It was not easy to enter the government — I paid a public price for it — but there’s no escape from the need to break away.”
The former head of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, praised the move on her Facebook page: “The political partnership that was born in sin has ended – and good that it ended. There are no more fig leaves to cover the moral failure of this government. The people of Israel are better than the government that represents them.”
Kadima’s departure spells the end of a barely two-month national unity government, which saw Mofaz join forces with Netanyahu in May in return for an agreement in principle to legislate a new universal draft, among other things.
Currently, ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are given draft deferments under the Tal Law, which expires on August 1. Netanyahu said Monday that should no new law be in place by then, the army would apply the draft according to a law that puts yeshiva students on equal footing with the rest of the country’s 18-year-olds. In practice, the IDF will likely not draft the vast majority of potential haredi recruits.
Efforts between coalition parties to draft a new universal enlistment law, which would see the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs serve in the military or national service, have faltered over several issues. The Kadima-led Plesner committee was disbanded by Netanyahu late last month, though, he said, most of its recommendations would be accepted.
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu had adopted a proposal put forward by Ya’alon, which called for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs to join the army or perform national service, such as serving in police or fire units, by ages 23 to 26. The motion also included incentives for those who enlist at a younger age.
Mofaz blasted the proposal as “disproportionate and contrary to the High Court ruling,” which stated that the burden of serving should be shared by all citizens. He also said it did not meet the principle of equality laid out by the Plesner committee.
Despite Kadima leaving the coalition, the government still stands, though only by a slim majority. Analysts have speculated Netanyahu may call for early elections.
Yisrael Beytenu said it would still try to push through its own universal draft legislation, which calls for the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs to all be drafted at 18.
“We’re hoping it will pass,” a spokesperson for the party said, adding that the bill had already passed a ministerial committee before Kadima joined the government.
Gabe Fisher and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.