Knesset Committee Looking to Expand Pool of Haredi Military Recruits

In rare move, ultra-Orthodox parties to meet to present unified front against military draft bill.

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The Knesset committee formulating the new military draft bill is due to discuss wording on Monday that would dramatically expand the pool of possible recruits to the army or civilian service - from ultra-Orthodox high school yeshiva students only to a much broader definition of the type of school in question.

Such a change in definition would make it easier for the army to reach the quota of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students it is meant to induct through the new law – 5,200 per year.

That definition goes back to the proposal’s previous wording, which states that for the purposes of the law, an ultra-Orthodox institution is one “where systematic education is given including sacred Jewish studies, or part of such an institution, which the education minister has determined by order, with the approval of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee.”

According to committee chairwoman MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), the demand to change the wording came Sunday from the Justice Ministry. Sources close to Shaked said the legal reason for the change was the desire to apply the law to the small number of ultra-Orthodox high school yeshivas where students also study for matriculation exams, and would otherwise not be included in the law’s definition of the institutions from which the IDF is to draw its quota; in the bill these are known as “unique cultural institutions.” The new wording would also expand the framework to include ultra-Orthodox yeshivas were technological subjects are studied.

Even without this clause, the bill is built on very ambiguous definitions of how an ultra-Orthodox individual should be defined. For example, soldiers of a religious Zionist bent would now be drafted under the Haredi quota, as well as Chabad Hasidim, young men who have dropped out of yeshivas, the newly religious, those who have abandoned Orthodoxy, and other categories.

An unusual meeting is to be held on Monday in Bnei Brak of the spiritual leadership of the three main ultra-Orthodox political parties – Degel Hatorah, Agudat Yisrael and Shas – to decide what sort of protest to mount against the new draft bill. Knesset members are also expected to attend the meeting. The protests, expected to take place next week, are focused mainly on the controversial sanctions against draft dodgers if the quota is not met, which are now part of the legislation.

The ultra-Orthodox community was rocked last week as the Shaked panel approved one of the emerging law’s most controversial clauses: the criminalization of Haredi draft refusal. Haredi Knesset members boycotted Wednesday’s vote, and committee member MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah), along with other ultra-Orthodox MKs, opposed the compromise that was reached.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with MK Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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