Haredi lawmakers tore their clothes as a sign of mourning and held a special prayer service after the Knesset approved Yesh Atid’s draft-reform bill on its first reading by a vote of 64 to 21 on Tuesday morning.
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MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) also handcuffed himself to the microphone as he spoke from the Knesset podium.
The bill, drafted by the committee headed by Jacob Perry (Yesh Atid), stipulates that Haredim who have reached age 18 will be obligated to join the army starting in 2020. According to the bill, over the next seven years — three years after the acclimation period that has been set for the reform — Haredim will be able to defer their enlistment until the age of 21 “to study Torah.”
In early July, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein gave his opinion about the bill, saying that while there was “no constitutional impediment” to accepting the proposed arrangement, some regulations in the bill were “problematic” and compromised equality.
Weinstein’s criticism of the plan focused mainly on the benefits that the Haredi enlistees would receive starting at the end of the acclimation period (July 2017) until the date that was not set in the original proposal. These benefits stipulate that Haredim will be obligated to serve in the army only from 21 years of age rather than 18, when they would be drafted, and that the alternative of civilian national service would be offered only to yeshiva students and not to all draftees.
In his opinion, Weinstein wrote that such leniencies should have a time limit, saying, “since these regulations compromise equality, they should not be instituted permanently, but rather as temporary regulations that the Knesset and the government will have to re-examine as their expiration date approaches, while paying attention to the prevailing situation at the time and to the inequality they involve.”
According to a presentation distributed to reporters that details components of the draft bill, after hearing Weinstein’s opinion the Perry Committee set an expiration date for the benefits that the Haredi community would receive, naming June 30, 2020 as the day all yeshiva students would be required to be drafted. This means that unlike other draftees, Haredi draftees will be able to defer their army service for almost another three years for Torah studies.
Despite the extension of the benefits period, the Perry Committee did not change the enlistment quota determined for the Haredi community. The quota determines the minimum annual number of Haredim who will be required to enlist in the army and in national civilian service. If the Haredi community meets the annual quota set by the committee (3,000 draftees in 2013, 3,800 in 2014 and so on), the number of people receiving the exemption will grow accordingly, reaching more than half of those born in the corresponding year.
Only in 2016 will the enlistment quota increase to a majority among those born in the relevant year — 5,200 draftees out of some 7,000 young people who are eligible for the draft.