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Ultra-Orthodox minister says Israeli government will fall without Haredi military exemption law

Minister of Housing and Construction Yitzhak Goldknopf attends a conference in Tel Aviv on March 22ב, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf has issued a warning that the Netanyahu government will fall unless it passes a law to exempt young ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service in the Israel Defense Forces. 

“If the [military] draft outline is not settled, the government could fall apart,” said Goldknopf, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. The housing minister’s comment was part of a wider interview with the ultra-Orthodox media outlet, Mishpacha.

The United Torah Judaism party has served as a coalition party in several Likud-led Netanyahu governments. The coalition agreement between Likud and United Torah Judaism defines Torah studies as “a foundational value in the heritage of the Jewish people.”

The ultra-Orthodox party demands that Haredi military exemption legislation is passed before the government decides on the state budget. If the Netanyahu government fails to pass the state budget by May 29, the Israeli parliament will automatically dissolve and a new round of elections will be held. 

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted with coalition partners on potential legislation to lower the military exemption age for ultra-Orthodox Jews from 26 to 23 or even to the age of 21. Most ultra-Orthodox Jews currently do not serve in the IDF due to religious and ideological reasons. 

The IDF has indicated it has sufficient manpower and does not appear to oppose the new legislation. An important goal of the new exemption legislation is to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to quickly enter the workforce once they complete their yeshiva studies – their traditional religious Jewish education. Employment levels among Haredi men are much lower than the national Israeli average. 

The United Judaism party has formed a strong political alliance with Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party over the years. The ultra-Orthodox party was not part of the former Bennett-Lapid government. Therefore, it is unclear whether the ultra-Orthodox party would risk dissolving the current Netanyahu government over a piece of legislation. 

However, United Torah Judaism party officials told Haredi media that, if necessary, the party could find an alternative government coalition. 

“Contrary to what it seems, alternatives can be put together,” party officials told Mishpacha. 

Meanwhile, the far-right coalition party, Otzma Yehudit, headed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, decided to temporarily boycott the Knesset votes due to what it believes was a weak military response to the recent rocket fire from Gaza into Israel’s border communities. 

“In light of the feeble overnight response, the Otzma Yehudit faction has decided not to attend Knesset votes today, and will conduct a special faction meeting in the city of Sderot [near the border with Gaza],” read the party statement.

Likud issued a strong response to Otzma Yehudit amid growing tensions within the government coalition. 

“The prime minister, defense minister, the IDF and security agencies are the ones who handle the sensitive and complex security incidents that Israel is dealing with,” according to Likud’s statement.

“The prime minister is the one who decides who is a relevant participant in the discussions. If this is unacceptable to Minister Ben Gvir he does not have to remain in the government.”

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters took to the streets to articulate their opposition to the Netanyahu government’s policies. 

Yiftach Golov, a leader of the Brothers in Arms – a group of IDF reservists who oppose the government’s judicial reforms – blasted Ben Gvir as a symbol of the ills of the current government. 

“Ben Gvir, you represent all that is wrong with the current government — zero governance, zero responsibility, zero capability,” said Golov.

“We, the people’s army, will not stop until we will ensure a Jewish democratic state based on equality, equally sharing in service to the whole country in paying taxes and security. It’s not about left and right, it’s about right and wrong,” stressed Golov. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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