Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday reiterated that he would not accept any changes to a controversial draft law regulating ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the Israel Defense Forces after the September 17 elections — a key demand that led to the collapse of coalition negotiations in late May.
Liberman refused to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless the bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for yeshiva students was passed as is, a demand flatly rejected by the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
That impasse helped trigger the new elections, which come mere months after Israelis headed to the polls in April. Without Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu was one seat short of a ruling majority in the coalition talks. Liberman is expected to be coalition kingmaker after the upcoming vote as well.
In a post pegged to the beginning of the time of year when many new soldiers are drafted to the army, Liberman repeated his support for enlistment among all populations, saying “it is our democratic duty.”
“We didn’t give up on the enlistment law, not before the April elections, not during the campaign and not after the elections,” Liberman said. “We didn’t join the government because we refused to give up a single comma or letter in the law, and we won’t give up an inch in the law after September 17 either.”
He repeated his call for a unity government that includes Netanyahu’s Likud, the centrist Blue and White, and his own party without the ultra-Orthodox, calling it the “only way” to pass the enlistment law unchanged.
A month and a half before the election, speculation is rife that a unity government could be the only viable outcome of the race. In most major polls, Netanyahu’s Likud does not appear to have a Knesset majority with just religious right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, after the dramatic falling out in May between the prime minister and Liberman.
Netanyahu earlier Wednesday dismissed the speculation and pledged not to form a unity government, though it remains to be seen whether he will have any other option.
Yisrael Beytenu has been focusing its campaign on criticizing the ultra-Orthodox community and presenting itself as right-wing, secular and anti-religious coercion.
Last month, Liberman was forced to remove a Yisrael Beytenu campaign ad calling on ultra-Orthodox Israelis to enlist to the military, after coming under fire for including footage of a rabbi who had fought in the Six Day War in 1967. He subsequently deleted the clip and uploaded it with a different photo.
While the ultra-Orthodox have historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from mandatory military service, the High Court of Justice in 2017 struck down a law exempting members of the community from serving in the Israel Defense Forces, forcing lawmakers to draft new legislation governing their enlistment.