As Charedi exemption ends, politicians prepare for election that has no date

As Netanyahu falters, members of the Knesset bide their time


An Israeli protester confront Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men outside an army recruiting office in the town of Kiryat Ono near Tel Aviv on March 5, 2024, during a demonstration against their exemption from serving in the army. Since the October 7 attack by Palestinian militants, the question surrounding whether the insular community, whose members see army service as conflicting with their religious duties, should be obligated to serve has sparked debate and led to protests against their decades-long exemptions. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

April 03, 2024 13:07

On Thursday of last week, the government failed to propose a law regulating the exemption of yeshivah students from military service by the final deadline set by the Supreme Court.

Therefore, on Monday 1 April, the exemption ended, 76 years after it was first agreed upon by David Ben-Gurion (two months before Israel’s official foundation) to allow 400 students to continue studying Torah while other young Jewish men were drafted to fight in the War of Independence.

The immediate implications of this are still unclear. The IDF is too busy with its wars to start drafting the now 66,000 Charedi men between the ages of 18 and 26 who are no longer exempt from service. Some of the government funding for their yeshivahs will gradually be reduced, but the strictly-Orthodox parties that represent their interests are in no rush to abandon their positions of power in the Netanyahu government.

The Charedi rabbis are furious with the prime minister, who has failed to deliver on his promise in the coalition agreement to pass an exemption law. But the Charedi politicians have advised them to wait before bailing on Netanyahu and bringing down his government. He is to have one more chance in the Knesset’s summer session, starting on 19 May 19.

Nine weeks to restore the historic exemption and enshrine it in law. Or else he loses the majority he fought five election campaigns to win.

“The war is over,” said Avigdor Lieberman, when asked by an interviewer this week if he still wanted to be a member of the war cabinet. The former minister and leader of Yisrael Beiteinu was scathing. What’s happening now in Gaza is no longer a war, he insisted. “What’s taking place [in Gaza] are routine security operations. There’s no war, just shuffling. From the Six Day [War] we’ve gone to six months.”

Lieberman’s military assessment, as someone who spent two years as defence minister, is interesting, but his political assessment is more important right now. Since 2019, Lieberman has been Netanyahu’s fiercest critic, but since October 7 he has dramatically toned down his rhetoric, angling for a seat in the war cabinet and counselling other opposition leaders that now was not the time for political upheaval.

Just like Gideon Sa’ar, who resigned last week from the coalition when he realised that he wasn’t about to get a seat in the war cabinet, Lieberman is now getting ready for the election which has no date.

Since the Knesset session ends next week, chances are that a date won’t be set for months to come, but Sa’ar and Lieberman both understand that as right-wingers who are also hypercritical of Benjamin Netanyahu, when the election comes, they will be fighting in what may be a wide but also crowded field. They may as well steal a move on the potential challengers who have yet to form and launch their own parties.

Both Sa’ar and Lieberman are talking about the election taking place in January 2025. That’s still eight months away, but for an increasing number of Israeli politicians, the campaign is already on.

April 03, 2024 13:07

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