Netanyahu refuses ultra-Orthodox request to work on army exemption law — report
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Netanyahu refuses ultra-Orthodox request to work on army exemption law — report

Shas, United Torah Judaism parties warn they could bolt government after prime minister tells coalition leaders controversial legislation can wait

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Leader of the Shas party Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (center) with leader of the United Torah Judaism party deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (left) and MK Moshe Gafni during a joint party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Leader of the Shas party Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (center) with leader of the United Torah Judaism party deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (left) and MK Moshe Gafni during a joint party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox parties have threatened to bring down the government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told them he would not currently support a new version of the draft law to grant members of their communities army service exemptions, Israel Radio reported Monday.

The bust-up reportedly came Sunday at a meeting of coalition party leaders. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri from Shas along with United Torah Judaism’s Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni requested that the government start working a new version of a draft exemption bill that was shot down by the High Court last year.

Netanyahu reportedly told them that now was not the time to be working on the matter and that the coalition will give it consideration in the future.

Deri, Lizman and Gafni responded that without a new draft law there won’t be a coalition, the radio reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, January 31, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Senior Knesset sources told Israel Radio that a new draft exemption law was not going to be advanced in the near future since the High Court ruling that nixed the previous version gave the government until September to come up with an alternative.

In addition, they noted, the Likud party, led by Netanyahu, is still stinging from the political damage caused by the recent passing of legislation, pushed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, that prevents local municipalities from permitting mini-markets to open on Saturdays unless they gain approval from the interior minister. Since the current interior minister is Deri, the law effectively gives the ultra-Orthodox Shas party power over the Saturday shop licenses.

The Knesset sources added that until the 2019 budget is approved by the Knesset sometime during the current sitting, a new draft law won’t be on the agenda.

Ultra-Orthodox ministers and their parties have in the past used the threat of bolting the government to gain leverage on legislation that enforces religious principles. During the political wrangling to pass the so-call Mini-market Law, which was opposed by secular coalition partner the Yisrael Beytenu party, Deri threatened to resign if it were not brought for a Knesset vote. The law passed, although Yisrael Beytenu broke coalition ranks and voted against it.

Litzman resigned in November 2017 as health minister in protest against work on the national rail network that was carried out on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest, also called Shabbat. He returned but only under the title of deputy minister.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police during a protest against the arrest of a religious seminary students who failed to comply with a recruitment order, next to the army draft office in Jerusalem, November 28, 2017. (Flash90)

In September 2017, the High Court of Justice struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined the principle of equality before the law. The decision raises the possibility that they could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with dramatic political and social implications. 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.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has been a controversial one in Israel, with more-extreme members of the Haredi community carrying out weekly, and even daily, protests against the draft.

It revolves 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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