Kahlon said to give PM ultimatum: Pass budget in 2 weeks or government falls

Ultra-Orthodox parties have threatened to veto state funding bill if military draft exemption not approved; Kulanu leader says he’ll fight ‘to the end’ for budget

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on November 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on November 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has threatened that his Kulanu party will quit the government if the 2019 state budget is not brought to a vote in the next two weeks as planned, Hadashot TV news reported Friday, amid a coalition spat with ultra-Orthodox parties over military draft exemptions.

Hadashot said the Kulanu leader has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum — pass the budget on time or the government falls.

Ultra-Orthodox coalition parties have threatened to vote down the budget unless legislation is approved exempting members of their community from the military draft — which would also lead to the government’s collapse.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a special cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Kahlon, whose Kulanu party’s 10 seats are vital to the coalition’s majority, on Friday promised in a statement to “fight to the end” for the budget.

“The 2019 budget: for IDF soldiers, children, the health system, Holocaust survivors, the disabled, employment, young couples, economic growth, a strong economy [and] the continued drop in housing prices. For this I will fight to the end,” the Kulanu party leader wrote on his Twitter account.

The tweet by Kahlon came amid growing speculation that coalition infighting over the military draft legislation could lead to fresh elections.

Hadashot TV news reported Thursday that ministers are working on a compromise that would see a draft exemption bill debated — and presumably passed — by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation before the Knesset begins discussing the 2019 budget. Under the proposal, the bill will not be voted upon in the plenum until after the budget has been passed.

The compromise is intended to reassure the ultra-Orthodox parties that the bill will at least begin advancing through the system before the Knesset’s summer recess.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (C), Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (L) and United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni attend the third Shas conference in Jerusalem on February 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report came after senior Likud officials told Hadashot that continued bickering over the legislation was raising the probability of elections.

At issue is the form that new military draft legislation will take, after the High Court of Justice in September threw out a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, on the grounds it undermined the principle of equality before the law.

The court afforded the government a year to put into place a new arrangement, giving it the opportunity to pass a new law.

On Monday, the ultra-Orthodox parties submitted two bills on the military draft. The first, a quasi-constitutional Basic Law, would enshrine long-term Torah study as a recognized form of official service to the state in lieu of military service. The second bill would force the Defense Ministry to grant deferrals to yeshiva students, and refers back to the proposed Basic Law repeatedly in defending the arrangements.

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has been working on its own proposal for the ultra-Orthodox draft, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman — who leads the intensely secular Yisrael Beytenu party — saying that only the ministry’s proposal would receive the support of his lawmakers.

Amid the threats to the government’s stability, Netanyahu agreed Wednesday to set up a committee made up of representatives from all six coalition parties to formulate a bill.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman appears in fancy dress in a Purim video, March 1, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

On Thursday, Liberman poked fun by dressing up as an ultra-Orthodox soldier to mark the Jewish holiday of Purim, traditionally celebrated by fancy dress.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has been a contentious one in Israel, revolving around a decades-old debate as to whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivas, or seminaries, should be called up for compulsory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women for 24.

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