ANALYSIS: What’s Behind the Coalition Crisis?


The coalition crisis in Israel is unnecessary, but real. United Torah Judaism, acting on the instructions of Gedolei Yisrael, is insisting that it will not vote in favor of the 2019 budget until an amendment is passed to the Draft Law enabling full-time yeshivah students to continue receiving deferrals.

At the same time, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, who heads the 10-member Kulanu party, has stated that he will resign unless the budget is passed by the time the Knesset adjourns for its Pesach break.

The crisis is unnecessary for a number of reasons. One, nothing will happen if the budget vote is pushed off for a few months. By law it must be passed by December 31 — and if necessary it can be delayed by another three months. On the other hand, the amendment to the draft law must be passed by September, the deadline given by the High Court of Justice.

Two, the demand to amend the draft law is nothing new. It was part of the coalition agreement signed by all the parties, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is proclaiming that he won’t vote for any amendment that gives yeshivah students deferrals (Liberman’s party is not doing well in the polls and he is resorting to chareidi-bashing to drum up electoral support).

Kachlon says he can’t continue as finance minister unless the 2019 budget is passed in the coming weeks, because he needs the money approved for next year to pay some of this year’s social-spending bills. United Torah Judaism says that withholding its vote on the budget is the only leverage it has to force the coalition partners to live up to their commitments to support the Draft Law amendment.

Even within the Likud there is opposition to quick passage of a Draft Law amendment. They argue that the political right will be perceived as once again “caving” to chareidi pressure — after the Supermarket Law that keeps some stores closed on Shabbos and the Reform issue with the Kosel — and Yair Lapid will be swept to power, which is the last thing the chareidi parties want.

It is true that the current government is one of the best the chareidi public has ever known, but the matter of allowing yeshivah students to continue their full-time Torah learning is do or die. There is no room for compromise.

The problem, as usual, begins with the High Court. After it struck down the Tal Law, which provided a legal framework for draft deferrals for yeshivah students, the Knesset passed a Draft Law in March 2014 that set a transitional period setting targets for the number of chareidim enlistees each year.

To be sure, the law wasn’t to the liking of the chareidi parties, for a number of reasons — including the call for criminal sanctions against those who didn’t serve — but it brought quiet. That is until left-wingers and groups like the Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court to scrap the law on the grounds that it is discriminatory.

The court gave the government until September 2018 to amend the law, otherwise it will be ruled unconstitutional, making all yeshivah students subject to the draft.

The chareidi parties did not wait until the last minute to deal with the issue. They have been pushing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but he has always found excuses for delaying action. Time for excuses is over.

The impasse won’t be resolved until Netanyahu returns from the United States later this week and enters the fray. Elections now are in no one’s interest, but unless Kachlon and Liberman come to their senses, the coalition that has worked so well for all the parties will come to an end.

While the prime minister enjoyed a warm welcome at the AIPAC conference, he could not forget for a minute the coalition crisis in Yerushalayim. As we went to print, the prime minister put an ultimatum in front of his partners in the coalition regarding the draft crisis. He requested to find a long-term solution, and if not, he will be forced to go to elections.

According to some political analysts, the prime minister wants to go to elections but doesn’t want to be accused of causing the breakdown of the coalition. So far, Finance Minister Kahlon refuses to accept the idea of passing the draft law before the budget. A reliable source in the coalition told Hamodia that the fact that the prime minister does not put enough pressure on his partners is proof that if he would have wanted to he could have found a way to solve the crisis.

UTJ does not want elections, but are not afraid to go to elections, if the law is not passed before the budget, as they were instructed by the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel.