Haredi Draft-dodgers to Face Criminal Charges, if Cabinet Agrees, Says PM

Law on Israeli army conscription to take effect as of 2017, but there will be a six-month grace period in which government can re-examine the step.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis who dodge the draft will face criminal prosecution, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decreed on Wednesday morning - if the cabinet and Knesset agree to that, after another half-year of deliberation.

According to the version of the so-called "draft law" that will be submitted to the Shaked committee on Wednesday night, ultra-Orthodox Israelis who do not enlist in the Israel Defense Forces will face criminal charges - but there will be a six-month "grace" period during which the government and the Knesset can reexamine the decision and consider alternative solutions.

As of mid-2017, the law will apply to all ultra-Orthodox citizens. But the minister of defense will not be authorized to issue draft orders for a period of between six months to one year from the day the law goes into effect. Yeshiva students will not face criminal charges.

The new version determines that the age of those required to do army service will be up to 26, as it appears in the original law, and not 24, as Habayit Hayehudi has demanded. The practical effect is a significant easing on the ultra-Orthodox sector to meet the quota demands.

An ultra-Orthodox representative told Haaretz Wednesday that the MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism Torah are likely to leave the Shaked committe.

Senior figures on the Shaked committee tasked with formulating the changes in the draft law said Tuesday that individuals from the Prime Minister's Office had asked the panel not to vote on the law’s more controversial elements. This would have meant the committee could not complete its work on the legislation, until broad consensus is achieved among the coalition’s factions on the contentious issue of criminal sanctions against draft dodgers.

The PMO came out quickly with a denial: “No directive was ever given to the Shaked committee not to discuss controversial issues. The committee can vote on any issue connected to the draft reform,” the bureau said.

The problem started when the Likud representative on the committee, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, left the meeting in the midst of the debate and did not take part in the vote. Committee chairwoman Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) immediately assumed that Hanegbi’s departure was a manifestation of the mood in the prime minister’s bureau, and committee members apparently felt that if Hanegbi was not present, the discussion could not proceed.

However, Hanegbi had apparently left the meeting for personal reasons, not because he received a directive from the prime minister’s bureau to do so. He had reportedly even asked his party to appoint a representative in his stead if voting resumed.

Despite the denials by Netanyahu’s associates, sources close to Shaked insisted yesterday that a senior figure in Netanyahu’s bureau had asked her later in the day to postpone the vote on sensitive issues.
Committee members were angered by the alleged interference by the prime minister’s bureau.

“Netanyahu has no authority to instruct the committee about voting on the various issues. He can only request it. This is a Knesset committee, not a cabinet committee that answers to him,” one lawmaker on the committee said. Panel member MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) told Haaretz: “The prime minister’s backtracking on the wording of the law as it was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and later by the cabinet and the Knesset, is a danger to the wholeness of the coalition.”

Meanwhile, committee members and other political figures were critical of the panel’s failure to complete its voting on the law’s various articles by now. “Shaked set marathon debates, but in fact the MKs disperse after an hour of discussion. The main articles have not come up at all yet, and those that have come up are waiting for re-votes as demanded by the ultra-Orthodox factions, “ a political figure said.

Sources close to Shaked said Tueday in response: “All the voting will be completed tomorrow except the question of the obligation to be drafted. Shaked will bring the matter of the draft to a vote the moment we reach an agreed-on outline. Claims about the activity and efficiency of the committee are surprising.”

GPO, Haim Tzach
Moti Milrod