analysisIsrael News

Could the haredi draft issue bring down the government?

Gallant drops a bombshell by announcing he will back an ultra-Orthodox service law only if all parts of the coalition agree.

Ultra-Orthodox recruits arrive at the IDF’s Bakum Reception and Sorting Base at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, Aug. 1, 2013. Credit: Flash90.
Ultra-Orthodox recruits arrive at the IDF’s Bakum Reception and Sorting Base at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, Aug. 1, 2013. Credit: Flash90.
Amichai Stein. Credit: Courtesy.
Amichai Stein
Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.

Until Feb. 26, the assumption was that the current Israeli government is stable.

“Yes, of course, there were the horrific events of Oct. 7, but who has an interest in quitting the government and causing it to collapse?” many politicians would have told you.

But on Feb. 26, everything began to change. Israel’s High Court ruled that the government must issue a defense by March 24 against a petition seeking the nullification of a Cabinet administrative decision from last June, in which the Defense Ministry was told not to enlist ultra-Orthodox yeshivah students until the government had passed a new law on the matter by the end of next month.

If the government does not manage to pass the law by March 31, young haredi men will have to be recruited and budget allocations for their yeshivahs will be stopped.

“We are at an unprecedented point. This is the first time that even the right wing is demanding to reach a recruitment agreement that is difficult for the ultra-Orthodox to digest,” Ishay Cohen, the political analyst at the Kikar Hashabat ultra-Orthodox news site, tells JNS.

Until now it was opposition versus coalition; now parties in the right-wing government coalition are also demanding change. And that is why, even if the High Court demands that the ultra-Orthodox be drafted—it will not be criticized by parts of the coalition,” Cohen says.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) dropped a bombshell on Feb. 28 by announcing that he will agree to put forward an ultra-Orthodox draft law “only if all parts of the coalition agree to it”—meaning that Benny Gantz and his National Unity Party would have to support it.

Existential necessity

“Gallant, not for the first time, showed civic virtue,” Knesset member Matan Kahana of National Unity tells JNS. “Gallant realized that Gantz and his party colleague [Minister-without-Portfolio] Gadi Eizenkot have put forward a logical draft outline that everyone can embrace and therefore he [Gallant] said that this is the outline that should be implemented. I hope that many in the Likud and the Zionist parties will join us. There is an understanding that after Oct. 7, recruiting ultra-Orthodox is not a social matter, but an existential necessity.”

The National Unity bill, called the Israeli Service Law, says that every young Israeli of recruitment age will need to participate in national service for the State of Israel. There will be several options: Educational national service, national service in various rescue and aid organizations, and military service. The compensation will be differential, with those who serve in the army getting the most.

“I come from the national Zionist religious community. And we have shown that it is possible to combine significant military service, on the most difficult battlefields, and also to be able to learn Torah and be rabbis,” Kahana argues. “I think that even an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student can do service for the country in combination with Torah study,” he added.

Cohen believes that the National Unity draft bill won’t be acceptable to the ultra-Orthodox parties.

“Gallant said he would only agree to a law acceptable to Gantz and Eizenkot. That means they have a veto. Their position means that ultimately, every ultra-Orthodox [male] teenager will have to enlist. This is an issue to which the ultra-Orthodox will never agree. They contend that those who study Torah should not disturbed. It is not a matter of quotas and numbers, but an essential ultra-Orthodox value.”

Over the past few weeks, there were behind-the-scenes talks between National Unity officials, ultra-Orthodox parties and government officials on a possible solution. Now that Gallant has put a gun on the table, everyone agrees that it will be harder to find a solution.

Some senior ultra-Orthodox officials claim that Gallant is trying to lead to the collapse of the government and an early election.

According to Cohen, “If the High Court stops yeshivah budgets, the current government has no special relevance for the ultra-Orthodox. What will they tell themselves? How can the next government be worse than the current situation? That’s why I don’t rule out a domino-effect resignation of ultra-Orthodox Knesset members from the government.”

Gantz doesn’t have a huge interest in finding a solution to the problem which might cause the government to collapse. “Wouldn’t it hurt the chances of Gantz forming a government, if he ruptures relations with the ultra-Orthodox parties?” JNS asked Kahana.

“I think that National Unity is doing the right thing for the State of Israel, and not the politically correct thing. Recruitment is an existential security need, and from this understanding—we act. I think that Benny Gantz will form the next government with Zionist parties. We have heard ultra-Orthodox ministers say that things need to change.

“I don’t think that politicians from ultra-Orthodox parties will run and call for mobilization tomorrow morning. But I hope they will join us,” said Kahana.

Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.

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