Meeting set that could avoid early elections

United Torah Judaism’s Council of Torah Sages set a meeting over the weekend that could lead to a compromise on the controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft bill and prevent an early election.

The council of influential rabbis will meet October 1, the night after the Simchat Torah holiday ends and two weeks before the Knesset returns from its extended summer and holiday recess.

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The goal of the meeting is to decide whether to accept compromise ideas on the draft bill that would then be brought to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman for approval. The bill already had the support of Shas and Degel Hatorah, one of the two parties that make up UTJ.

Some of the rabbis in the Hassidic Agudat Yisrael party that also makes up UTJ have also supported the bill, but the head of the council, Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, has expressed opposition until now. The Gerrer Rebbe is the spiritual mentor of UTJ head and deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman, whose vote on the bill is key.

Since the last time the council met, its hard-line secretary, Rabbi Mordechai Stern, was replaced by his more pragmatic predecessor, Rabbi Yaakov Waltzer, leading to speculation that compromises are on the way on the draft bill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he wants to know by the time the Knesset’s winter session begins on October 15 whether a draft bill is ready that every party in his governing coalition could support. If an agreement is reached, the next general election could be held on time in November 2019.

But if there is no compromise on the bill, an early election could be called immediately that could be held as early as the end of January.

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