Ministers were reportedly working Thursday on a compromise proposal for the passage of a bill to exempt ultra-Orthodox students from the military draft, in an attempt to keep the governing coalition from falling apart.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers had threatened to veto the 2019 state budget if the military draft bill was not passed, which would lead to the government’s collapse.
Hadashot news reported that under the emerging compromise, a draft exemption bill will be debated — and presumably passed — by the ministerial committee on legislation before the Knesset begins discussing the 2019 budget, but will not be voted on in the plenum until after the budget has been passed.
The compromise is intended to reassure the haredi parties that the bill will at least start advancing before the Knesset’s summer recess.
Senior officials in the ruling Likud party had warned earlier on Thursday that coalition infighting over the legislation could lead to the government’s collapse and bring early 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.
However, the court suspended its decision for a year to allow for a new arrangement to be put in place, giving the government the option 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 formulating its own version of the ultra-Orthodox draft bill, 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, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Wednesday to set up a committee made up of representatives from all six coalition parties to formulate a bill.
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.