Political war looms as Charedi draft becomes law

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 13, 2014
Aryeh Deri, who pledged to support the left in  future (Photo: Reuters)

Aryeh Deri, who pledged to support the left in future (Photo: Reuters)

Three controversial laws were passed by the Knesset this week in a legislative push that created rare unity among the opposition.

The laws raised Israel’s electoral threshold to 3.25 per cent, established criminal sanctions against Charedi yeshiva students who refuse to enlist in the IDF and that any decision to relinquish Israeli-held territory will have to be authorised by a referendum.

The co-operation between the Charedi and left-wing parties in opposing the law does not threaten Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition for now, but it could deny him a majority in the future.

The three laws were not initially supported by the whole coalition but in order to pass them all, the parties supporting the government signed an agreement that their members would vote for the laws as one bloc in a marathon week of sessions interrupted only by Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech.

The opposition largely boycotted the votes.

The first law to pass was the “governance law”, drafted originally by Yisrael Beiteinu. Along with limits on the size of future Israeli cabinets and a curb on the opposition’s use of no-confidence motions, the law raises the electoral threshold from two to 3.25 per cent.

This move will make it impossible for small parties (of less than four MKs) to gain a place in the Knesset and was opposed particularly by the three Israeli-Arab parties. It passed on Tuesday by a majority of 67 votes to none. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended the law saying that the electoral threshold in Israel remains lower than that in many Western countries.

Leader of the opposition and the Labour party, Yitzhak Herzog, criticised Mr Lieberman, saying: “Most of your career has been built on hate laws and scare campaigns.”

The second law to pass was the draft law, spearheaded by Yesh Atid. It emerged from a lengthy committee process and scheduled a quota of 5,200 Charedi men to join the IDF annually, as well as creating criminal sanctions against those who refuse to enlist. The law passed on Wednesday morning 67-1, with one coalition member voting against. The referendum law, originally proposed by Likud MKs, passed in the afternoon by 68 votes to none.

MK Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism said: “This is a dark and painful day for the state of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu is directly responsible for abandoning the Charedim and the rights of the yeshiva students who only study Torah. We won’t forget and we won’t forgive.” Shas leader Aryeh Deri said that the Charedi parties would in the future support Labour and the left.

Last updated: 12:14pm, March 13 2014