JERUSALEM (JTA) — A bill that requires the military enlistment of a target number of haredi Orthodox yeshiva students passed its initial reading in the Knesset, despite threats by haredi lawmakers to bring down the government if it becomes law.
Some 63 lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation and 39 against after a more than three-hour debate that lasted into early Tuesday morning. The legislation must pass two more readings to become law.
The centrist and secular Yesh Atid Party, which sits in the opposition, voted with the ruling government coalition in favor of the legislation. This ensured its passage, since the haredi Orthodox parties publicly oppose the legislation. Ahead of the vote, Yaakov Litzman, the head of the United Torah Judaism party, threatened to leave the government if it is voted into law. The loss of UTJ’s six Knesset seats would put the coalition below the number needed to remain in power.
Lawmakers from the UTJ Party and the Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party reportedly remained outside of the Knesset plenum’s chamber until it was clear that the measure would have enough votes to pass the first reading, and only then did they enter and vote against it.
The legislation requires that the haredi yeshivas meet annual enlistment targets which will increase each year for ten years. The government will reduce the annual budget allocation for the yeshivas each year that the targets are not met. If the yeshivas do not meet the targets for three years in a row, the law will be thrown out and all haredi men will be required to enlist. The 2018 target enlistment currently stands at 3,348, reaching 6,844 by 2027.