State Seeks to Postpone Legislation of ultra-Orthodox Draft Bill

Military-conscription reform bill shortens military service for men and lengthens service for women; delay in hearing will postpone draft.

Israel's State Attorney's Office on Tuesday gave the latest draft of the military-conscription reform bill to petitioners against the "Tal Law" (which exempts ultra-Orthodox Jews from service). 

The upshot of this latest move is to delay all processes involved in exemptions from army service.

The draft-reform bill (which when enacted is supposed to replace the Tal Law) was compiled by a ministerial committee headed by Jacob Perry. the science and technology minister. The bill would extend mandatory military service to most young ultra-Orthodox men in Israel, supplanting the Tal Law, which exempted Haredi men from military service and which the High Court of Justice last year struck down as unconstitutional.

The court is scheduled to hear the petitions on June 18, but the State Attorney’s Office will on Thursday request a six-week extension, to August 1, from the court. If granted, the continuance would presumably postpone by a similar period of time all the procedures for determining service exemptions for Haredim. Compulsory service for ultra-Orthodox men is scheduled to take effect within two years after the law is passed.

The State Attorney’s Office did not promise that the legislative process will be completed by the new deadline, in the event the continuance is granted, or that it would not request an additional postponement.

In addition to stipulating the terms of service for Haredi men, the current version of the draft bill shortens the term of compulsory service for most men in the Israel Defense Forces, from 36 to 32 months, and lengthens service for women, from 24 to 28 months, starting in July 2015.

It would also allow the defense minister to defer service until age 26 for 1,800 “exceptional” yeshiva students and an additional 300 students “from advanced Zionist yeshivas” every year.

Also, roughly 27,000 yeshiva students whose enlistment has already been deferred and who are at least 22 years old “would be asked to report” to a recruiting office, where they would be asked if they wished to do military or civilian national service. If they decline to enlist in the IDF, the defense minister would be authorized to exempt them from military service.

Attorney Dana Briskman of the Attorney General’s Office noted in the continuance request that the government was “working very intensively to submit bills to regulate the drafting of yeshiva students” and “should be allowed to complete the process.”

The petitions against the Tal Law were submitted by attorneys Gilad Barnea, Yehuda Ressler and Eliad Shraga against the defense minister, the IDF, the prime minister and the Knesset.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that even if the law did not go into effect on August 1 as originally scheduled he would avoid imposing an early draft on Haredi men.

While the High Court of Justice has stipulated that the Knesset must pass a draft reform law by August 1, and the Perry committee already issued its conclusions last week, legislative and government officials say this deadline is unlikely to be met.

One possibility is to allow for an interim situation, a short period of time during which all Haredi men of draft age will be called up. The IDF has prepared for this, sending call-up orders to more than 5,000 Haredi men of draft age. But Ya’alon’s remarks, like the draft bill published by the State Attorney’s office this week, suggest that the state has no intention of drafting the ultra-Orthodox during this period.

Ya’alon, who will be responsible for implementing the draft reforms, is to visit Washington next week. The announcement of his visit was made not by the Pentagon, nor by the Defense Ministry, but by a research institute in the U.S. capital that invited a group to hear the defense minister next Friday.

Tali Meir
Tomer Appelbaum