Haredi conscription law about to foil Netanyahu’s attempt to build a coalition

Ultra-orthodox Jews clash with Israeli police in a protest over Israeli conscription law, November 2018 (Photo: screenshot YouTube)

With the deadline looming to form a government by tomorrow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing instead to go to new elections as he has been unable to form a coalition.

Since the April 9 elections, where Netanyahu emerged the clear winner, he appeared on target to form a right-wing coalition comprised of 65 Knesset seats including several religious parties on his side (United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Union of Right-Wing Parties) plus two secular right-wing parties (Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu).

However, he has failed to meet the vastly divergent demands of all the smaller parties he’s pulling together. Most of this coalition is made up of ultra-Orthodox Jews [in Hebrew “Haredim”] who are opposed to mandatory military service. But Avigdor Liberman, head of Yisrael Beytenu party, has made his participation in the coalition contingent upon passing mandatory army conscription for the Haredi into law.

“After a failed attempt to form a government under the ideal conditions, we expect the prime minister to put more pressure on the haredi parties and the rabbis who stand behind them,” Yisrael Beytenu said.

Liberman’s withholding of his five mandates from the coalition could spell new elections for the country.

According to the Jerusalem Post, this issue of demanding that the ultra-Orthodox serve in the army – as the rest of israelis do – is nothing new.

“The matter has been on the political table for 20 years, since the Tal Commission was formed to examine the historical, blanket exemption haredi yeshiva students received from military service since Israel’s establishment – and more or less decided to continue that exemption,” the paper explained.

Netanyahu’s Likud party has proposed compromises for both sides, but Liberman appears to be unswayable.

“I am now making my last effort to form a right-wing government and to prevent unnecessary elections,” Netanyahu said in a video on Sunday. “I gave the partners a proposal for a solution. It is based on the principles established by the army and on the data that the army has established. There is no reason to reject this.”

If the Knesset is not dissolved after a vote later today or tomorrow, President Reuven Rivlin will have to decide whether to ask another Knesset member to form a coalition.

Likud won 35 seats in the April 9 election. The two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, each won eight seats. Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu won four. And the hawkish Union of Right-Wing Parties won five.

As the Jerusalem Post summed up: “Soon we’ll know how this game of chicken between haredi parties and Yisrael Beytenu will end, either with a dissolved Knesset and Israel going to vote twice in one year, or with the unsolvable puzzle of haredi enlistment pieced together – at least somewhat – after 20 years of political debate.”