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2 Tammuz 5760 - July 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Yeshiva Draft Bill Passes First Knesset Reading

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 confidence vote.

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 opposing.

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 manner.

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 partners."

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 motion.

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