Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Israel is being “held prisoner by a group of extremists,” in an apparent reference to the ultra-Orthodox parties who have threatened to bolt from the coalition if a law is not passed exempting their constituencies from mandatory military service.
“In recent days, Israel is being held prisoner by a group of extremists. I do not want elections, but I will not give up on principles: security and responsibility,” the defense minister tweeted.
“We will not conduct negotiations with a gun to our head,” Liberman added.
The defense minister explained that he was setting up a professional team of military officials that would ” prepare the best law for the IDF and the people of Israel.”
Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has been threatening to boycott voting on the state budget vote if a law on exempting the ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service was not passed first, but Liberman has vowed his Yisrael Beytenu party will not allow such a measure to pass. The dispute has threatened to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Liberman’s attack earned the response of Shas lawmaker Yaakov Margi, who blasted the defense minister’s “sad and disturbing” tweet as “anti-Semitic.”
“The leader of the smallest party in the coalition, who received the post of defense minister without justification for the size and importance of his party, attacks the ultra-Orthodox parties in an anti-Semitic attack in order to try to gather votes,” Margi tweeted Thursday.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu said he was not seeking early elections but that a fresh vote would be held if coalition parties couldn’t agree on legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox students from military service.
Laying out his conditions for avoiding elections, Netanyahu said any bill on ultra-Orthodox enlistment must be backed by the entire coalition and provide a long-term solution. But he also said he was demanding that coalition members agree to remain in the government until the end of its term.
The draft legislation is backed by the United Torah Judaism party. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has threatened in response to pull his Kulanu party out of the government if the budget isn’t passed by next week.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who leads the UTJ party, denied on Thursday reports of a compromise proposal to resolve the impasse.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said Wednesday that he believed it was possible to resolve the coalition crisis, adding that Israelis “won’t forgive” the government if elections are held early.
On Sunday, Liberman issued similar criticism of the Shas and UTJ parties for failing to denounce the hanging and near-burning of two effigies of IDF soldiers in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on Friday.
Also Thursday, hundreds of members of the radical ultra-Orthodox sect swarmed the streets of Jerusalem, blocking off major roads at the entrance to the city in their first anti-IDF draft demonstration since the death two weeks ago of their leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.
Police initially allowed the protesters to demonstrate peacefully but after several hours used mounted police and water cannons to disperse them after they refused to leave.
The demonstration followed the arrest earlier this week of a young member of the radical Jerusalem Faction, who followed the orders of the sect’s leadership and refused to sign a letter requesting a deferral of service, making him a draft dodger in the eyes of Israeli authorities.
Hadashot News reported that one of the goals of Thursday’s protest was to show that the movement will not be affected by the loss of its leader.
Auerbach passed away after suffering a heart attack on February 24. The 86-year-old was said to have had some 25,000 followers.