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The Million-Dollar Question

For Bibi's shaky coalition, draft dissent spells trouble


othing illustrates Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s volatility like the following anecdote: The same day Iran threatened to strike inside Israeli territory, Yoav Gallant arrived for a meeting with chareidi representatives.

In a fighting mood amid the army’s preparations for the anticipated attack, Gallant began the conversation with a chilling assessment of the state of the country. Then the chareidim asked him why he’s playing into Benny Gantz’s call for a snap election.

“I don’t want elections, and anyone who cares about this country should be running from elections,” Gallant responded. “We can’t go to elections before we’ve defeated Hamas, which will require entering Rafah. Whatever the cause, elections before the mission is accomplished will be perceived as a defeat for Israel. In my view, winning the war is an existential mission, and elections would jeopardize that goal.”

In that case, the chareidim asked, why did you take the initiative in announcing that on your watch, the Defense Ministry won’t advance a draft bill without Gantz’s approval, when it’s clear that Gantz has no interest in keeping this government going?

In a characteristic response, Gallant explained that what he’d done was actually for the good of the chareidim. “After the judicial reform saga, it’s clear to me that passing a bill to allow yeshivah students to continue learning will require broad political consensus. If we try to ram legislation through, we’ll see huge demonstrations and reservists refusing to report for duty en masse, forcing us to pull back. That’s why I said we need to sit down with Gantz and agree on an outline, because that’s our only chance of actually passing a bill. But if Gantz tries to use it to bring down the government, I won’t cooperate with him.”

The chareidim left the meeting with a good feeling. “Gallant led us to understand that there was something to talk about,” a participant told us.

But by that evening, it was as if the closed-door conversation had never taken place, as Gallant publicly reiterated that his position hadn’t changed and he had no intention of compromising.


allant’s unpredictability makes him the joker in the pack when it comes to the fate of the draft law, which will be the million-dollar question of Israeli politics this summer. Benny Gantz sent a low-ranking representative to the intensive intra-coalition negotiations taking place on the matter, but a far more important dialogue is taking place on the axis between the Defense Ministry and a chareidi team led by former minister Ariel Attias. Having been recruited to the task despite not holding an official role, Attias demanded — and received — complete authority from the Sephardic Council of Torah Sages to continue negotiating with the Defense Ministry, after a sternly worded letter from Sephardic roshei yeshivah rejected dialogue and compromises over enlistment quotas.

Meanwhile, a number of litvish roshei yeshivah have been seen coming and going at the homes of Rav Dov Landa and Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, the heads of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, in a bid to override the inflammatory rhetoric and formulate a real solution.

“The gaps are not as significant as the letters indicate,” a leading rosh yeshivah told me. “First of all, there seems to be no disagreement on substance. The Defense Ministry understands that there’s zero chance of anyone on the chareidi side agreeing to quotas for Torah learning, but there will be enlistment quotas, something that was agreed on in the time of Maran Rav Steinman ztz”l. It’s agreed that in the event of failure to meet the targets, there will be financial sanctions against yeshivos, but not criminal sanctions on institutions and bochurim. The disagreement boils down to the exact numbers rather than substance.”

The big question centers on the magic number the chareidim will be able to stand by. The Defense Ministry is talking about 25% of the annual chareidi cohort being drafted into the army.

“It’s possible to reach this number without harming the yeshivos,” a Defense Ministry source involved in the talks told me, explaining: “There are currently over 1,000 draft-age chareidim, aside from Peleg HaYerushalmi, who didn’t have deferrals before the High Court decision. These are chareidim who are not in yeshivah, but who weren’t drafted because the army lacked the resources. If we add to this official recognition of ZAKA and United Hatzalah as units operating under the army, we can reach much higher numbers than were agreed on in the past.”


he chareidim face a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, things can’t get any worse than they are. No future financial sanctions could be as damaging as the sanctions effectively in place today, as a result of the High Court decision to criminalize Torah learners and withhold funding from yeshivos. On the other hand, one has to consider the ideological implications of chareidi MKs voting in favor of a proposal that includes steep quotas for chareidi enlistment.

Behind closed doors, Defense Minister Gallant leans toward supporting whatever compromise is reached, even without Gantz’s consent. The moment he seemed to be convinced was when Defense Ministry representatives gave their perspective, in the form of facts rather than empty slogans.

“We work with the data, not with anecdotes,” it was explained to Gallant. “Before the Lapid bill, which was advanced without chareidi support, the Netzach Yehuda Battalion was the largest in the IDF. Ten years later, its ranks have shrunk by 15%, even as the annual cohort of draft-age chareidim has grown by 7%. Our professional opinion is that without mainstream chareidi backing, not a single chareidi will be drafted.”

With the government hanging in the balance, we can expect a hot summer ahead. By October 8, still reeling from the surprise attack, Netanyahu assessed that the government wouldn’t fall as a result of the war.

“Politically, the draft law is a bigger threat to the integrity of the coalition,” said the man blessed with a sixth sense when it comes to detecting threats to his government.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1009)

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