Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman announced in a statement quoted on Sunday by the Haredi newspaper Hamodia, that after consultation with the Council of Torah Sages, his party, United Torah Judaism, will not vote for the state budget before the draft law is passed.
The term “draft law” stands for two bills promoted by the ultra-Orthodox parties: the “fixed” draft law, which was rejected almost six months ago by the High Court of Justice on the grounds that it did not meet the demand for equal sharing of the security burden by all Israelis; and the Basic Law: Torah Study, which turns Torah study into a basic value of Israeli democracy and as such gives it precedence over the draft law.
A Likud minister told Ha’aretz Saturday night that “the coalition was taken hostage by the internal conflicts in the courtyard of the Gerrer Rebbe.”
Minister Litzman is the Gerrer Rebbe’s man in the UTJ party, and as long as the rebbe insists, the party, which is a coalition of Hasidic and Lithuanian groups, will continue to press the draft issue above all, including the budget.
Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, 79, is the eighth Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Ger, which is one of the largest Hasidic communities in Israel. He is considered an extremist on the segregation between men and women and on rejecting military service for the movement’s young men.
Litzman’s announcement intensifies the crisis among the coalition partners over the urgent need to pass the state budget – and, according to the same Likud minister, Shas and the Lithuanian faction in UTJ don’t wish to give up a full year in the remaining life of this government. But the Gerrer Rebbe’s man insists that without their leverage on the budget, the Haredim would never see a draft law they—and presumably their constituency—could live with.
The prime minister, who is on his way to the US for an appearance in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as in the White House, appointed Likud ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin to be in charge of resolving the coalition crisis, but the crisis appears to be worsening nevertheless.
So much so, that last Friday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon threatened Netanyahu that if the budget is not passed within the next two weeks, he, Kahlon, would not hesitate to dismantle the coalition (with his ten Knesset seats, a walkout by his Kulanu faction would reduce the Likud-led coalition government to less than a 60-seat majority, leaving it vulnerable to a deadly vote of no confidence by the opposition).
The finance minister tweeted: “The 2019 budget: for the sake of the IDF soldiers, for the sake of the children, for the health system, Holocaust survivors, the disabled, employment, young couples, economic growth, a strong economy, for all of these I’ll fight to the bitter end.” The bitter end in his case meaning courting new elections and the predictable decline of his party’s Knesset delegation to single digits.
Should the coalition crisis persist, and either Kulanu or UTJ brings down the Netanyahu government, new elections are expected in June.
A compromise has been suggested, to put the draft bills on the agenda of the Ministerial Legislation Committee concurrent with passing the budget, thereby starting the process of presenting a pro-Haredi military draft bill for an early Knesset approval, and sending them to committee for hearings and amendments. But, according to Channel 2 News, Litzman insists on getting his draft bill through first, and only then passing the budget.