Haredi draft bill delayed until after holidays

Deliberations on the controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill will be postponed until after the series of Jewish holidays that ends on October 1, sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday night.

When Netanyahu last spoke to his coalition partners about the bill two weeks ago, he told them he wanted a decision made about whether to pass the bill or seek an early election by the next two times they met. Media outlets initially interpreted the deadline as two weeks later, because the party heads normally meet every week.

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But Thursday night, Netanyahu’s associates confirmed a report by Channel 1 political correspondent Michael Shemesh that the coalition partners would not meet again until “after the holidays.” That will leave a short timetable to decide the fate of the legislation – and Netanyahu’s government, because the Supreme Court ruled that a new conscription law must be passed by December 2.

Intense negotiations are expected between the Simhat Torah holiday on October 1 and the return of the Knesset from its extended summer and holiday recess on October 15, so the legislation can be completed by the deadline – or an election will be initiated that would force the Supreme Court to extend the deadline.

Neither Netanyahu’s associates, nor the spokesmen for the leaders of United Torah Judaism (UTJ) could confirm a report in the Israel Hayom newspaper that significant progress had been made on a new conscription bill. According to the report, a minor change would be made regarding the consequences of haredi draft quotas not being met.

The Councils of Torah Sages of Shas and both parties that make up UTJ are expected to meet soon to consider those compromises and others being worked on behind the scenes.

“Blessings come from what is not apparent to the observers, especially the media,” a source in UTJ said.

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Other sources in UTJ said they were not aware of any progress being made toward a compromise on the bill. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party responded similarly, saying “we have not received any overtures, no one spoke to us and we don’t know anything about it.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid responded to the Israel Hayom report by accusing Netanyahu of “surrendering to the haredim.” Yesh Atid voted in favor of the bill in its first reading, but party officials said that if the consequences of haredi draft quotas not being met were changed, its MKs would vote against it in further readings.

“I have no doubt that Liberman would not accept a change that would betray the framework written by the IDF,” Lapid said. “If he agrees to it, he will no longer be able to use his campaign slogan that his word is his bond.”

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