TEL AVIV – Avigdor Liberman, who single-handedly led the country to the voting booths three times within a year over his vehement opposition to draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, was the subject of an exposé published Monday that found he had issued hundreds of exemptions to yeshiva students while serving as defense minister.
The sons of politicians, rabbis and other leading ultra-Orthodox figures received exemptions and leniencies from Liberman’s office, the Haaretz daily reported in a damning investigation citing dozens of sources.
Liberman’s main gripe in the latest two elections has been his purported unwillingness to sit in a government with ultra-Orthodox parties whom he has denounced for representing the interests of “draft dodgers.” His central campaign promise over the last elections for his secular right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party has been to ensure that the ultra-Orthodox share the burden of defending Israel by enlisting. His refusal to join the government in late 2018 and again in April 2019 over the proposed draft law which ultra-Orthodox parties, Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu’s coalition allies, opposed, led twice to the government’s dissolution.
The person who reportedly handled the requests for exemptions was Liberman’s close adviser, Avi Abuhatzeira.
“Knesset members themselves, or their aides in office, connected with Abuhatzeira via direct conversation, message, or email, and he immediately devoted himself to the issue,” said one source close to the matter. “This was routine, no one hid it. When Liberman was Defense Minister the haredim had ‘a sister in the palace.’ Abuhatzeira was like a member of the haredi parties.”
Another source said that Abuhazeira “was exactly like a member of the ultra-Orthodox parties.”
The report also said hundreds of deserters from the extremist Jerusalem Faction, which has organized hundreds of violent demonstrations against army service, were granted outright exemptions under Liberman.
According to sources, many of the exemption requests were handled directly by Liberman.
Some would receive medical exemptions after presenting falsified medical documents, the report said.
In some cases, “the chance of receiving an exemption without help were nil,” a source outside the IDF told Haaretz.
Liberman’s office has denied the report.
“The Defense Minister never interfered, even by hinting, in any instance which had to do with receiving an exemption from military service,” a statement from Liberman’s office said. “Requests from the haredi sector regarding enlistment, like requests from the rest of the public, were dealt with without interference and in accordance with the decisions made by the professional echelon.”
Abuhatzeira wrote that all requests sent to Liberman’s office were “handled seriously.”
“Everything was done with the approval and authority of professionals,” he said.