In Purim dig at coalition partners, Liberman dresses as Haredi soldier
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In Purim dig at coalition partners, Liberman dresses as Haredi soldier

Amid controversy over military service exemption bill by ultra-Orthodox parties, defense minister suggests UTJ heads become chief of staff and head of naval commando unit

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

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday in a Purim holiday video poked fun at his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners for demanding the continued exemption of Haredi seminary students from the military draft.

Dressed in IDF uniform, with a black kippa and fake sidelocks to portray an ultra-Orthodox soldier, Liberman said now was the time to enlist.

“When Adar begins, we happily enlist,” he quipped, parodying the traditional phrase that prescribes increased happiness when the Hebrew month of Adar begins and the Purim festival — traditionally a day of costumes and frivolity — is on the horizon.

With pop-up images, the defense minister proposed that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni — both of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism — should join the elite Sayeret Matkal and Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, respectively.

The defense minister was making light of a looming coalition crisis between the ultra-Orthodox parties and his secularist Yisrael Beytenu.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, fuming over the decision to delay a vote on a military draft exemption bill Wednesday, vowed Thursday to condition their support for the 2019 state budget on the passage of their proposals, even if that meant the budget wouldn’t pass — almost certainly triggering the fall of the coalition.

Chairman of the Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni (R) and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attend a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 6, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Litzman, who leads the United Torah Judaism party, said earlier Wednesday that he was under instructions from the party’s rabbinic leadership, its Council of Torah Sages, according to which he “could not support” the 2019 state budget bill before a draft proposal for a military exemption law was passed.

“The draft law is an inextricable part of the coalition agreement, and we expect all of the coalition factions to support the law if they desire the continued existence of the coalition,” he said in a statement.

The ultra-Orthodox parties on Monday submitted two parallel 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 ultra-Orthodox parties have long been opposed, in principle, to the passage of new Basic Laws. But the proposals come ahead of a September deadline by the High Court of Justice to re-legislate the issue, after the court disqualified an earlier law on the grounds that it violated constitutional principles of equality.

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, was formulating its own version of the ultra-Orthodox draft bill, with Liberman, who leads the Yisrael Beytenu party, saying that only that proposal would receive the support of his party’s lawmakers.

After the vote was postponed, Liberman accused UTJ of trying to blackmail the government with its vow to vote against the bill at the expense of the coalition, saying that his own party “will not allow it.”

“The draft law is the draft dodging law,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “UTJ’s move is no less than blackmail.

“Yisrael Beytenu will not surrender and will not allow this to happen,” Liberman said.

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