On Monday, after seven hours of deliberation on the clearly
controversial measure, the Knesset passed the first reading
of a bill that would legalize military deferrals to yeshiva
students under a five-year law, but establish special
frameworks for optional service. The bill, legislating the
Tal Commission's recommendations, passed by 52-43 on a
It is a measure that is regarded as the core need of the
chareidi community, and United Torah Judaism made it the sole
consideration that it asked in exchange for support of the
Barak government. UTJ did not get any ministries or positions
for its politicians, nor any promises of funds -- just a
commitment to pass a law regularizing the arrangement for the
deferral of the army service of yeshiva students after the
previous, 50-year-old arrangement was struck down by a
decision of the High Court.
Some of the sharpest attacks came from One Israel MKs, with
several deciding to break coalition discipline and not
support the bill. Seven MKs abstained.
All of Meretz's 10 MKs voted against the confidence motion,
as did the Center Party's Roni Milo. This was the first time
that Meretz had voted no confidence in the government. All of
Yisrael Ba'aliya's MKs and three National Religious Party MKs
absented themselves from the vote. Arab MKs were split
between supporters and those who abstained. Environment
Minister Dalia Itzik, who voted against the bill in the
cabinet, supported it in the plenum.
The support of Shas and United Torah Judaism ensured the
passage of the bill.
The entire Shinui faction also opposed the bill. National
Union-Yisrael Beiteinu was split, with Zvi Hendel supporting
the government, Benny Elon abstaining, and the rest
Prime minister Barak, who asked for an immediate vote of
confidence on the bill, called on the Knesset to support it
as a bridge to unite all parts of society.
Before the vote, the Prime Minister's Office issued a
statement saying that changes can be made in the legislation
before its second and third readings.
Likud leader Ariel Sharon, who was reportedly pressured by
chareidi leaders to support the bill, announced his
opposition before the vote. He called for an agreed solution,
but "a different one" that would ensure greater equality.
Under the Tal recommendations, yeshiva students would get
deferrals until age 23, when they can take a year off,
including work, to decide whether to stay in yeshiva or join
a military or civilian service program.
Earlier in the day, the faction voted 12-7 to enforce
coalition discipline, but soon after the rebel MKs said they
would disregard the decision. Many changed their position
when the no-confidence motion was called.
The National Religious Party had a bitter meeting in which
its rabbis pressured the faction to support the bill, despite
the objections of MKs Shaul Yahalom, Zevulun Orlev, and
Nachum Langental. At first it seemed as if the party would
vote against the law, since most of its members opposed it.
However, former Chief Rabbi HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu
instructed them to vote for the law, as did other rabbis of
the Mafdal who arrived at the meeting. In the meeting, MK
Yigal Bibi said: "MKs Orlev and Langental are Meretz!"
The representatives of UTJ made great efforts to persuade all
Knesset members and parties to support the proposal,
stressing the importance of anchoring the arrangement of the
deferrals of yeshiva students in law, in an orderly
MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz spoke to the members of the Likud,
and said that he expects the Likud to show its gratitude to
the chareidim who went along with Likud for a very long time,
and vote for the proposal which is the most important one on
the chareidi sector's agenda since the Women's Draft Law of
the 50's. "I am speaking to you like brothers to a voyage. If
you don't vote for the law, it will still pass. But you will
be hurling us in political directions which we do not
particularly like. This law pertains to the essence of our
lives. If you ever want to return to power, you need
Like Rabbi Ravitz, the Religious Affairs Minister, Yitzchok
Cohen of Shas pleaded with them to accept it. However, at the
end of the meeting it was decided to accord the MK's the
freedom to vote as they wished. The entire Likud voted
against the bill after it was turned into a confidence