Israel Puts Off Decision on Whether to Draft 5,100 ultra-Orthodox Jews

Critic says Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon 'is once again betraying his duty and lending a hand to discrimination and intolerable benefits for yeshiva students.'

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Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is postponing the decision on whether to draft 5,100 yeshiva students who have already been issued call-up orders, the state said Thursday in response to a petition filed with the High Court of Justice.

Thousands of call-up orders were sent to ultra-Orthodox Jews before the January 22 Knesset election; the first draftees are scheduled to report on August 18.

“As things now stand, in light of proposed bills that substantially alter the legal situation pertaining to the draft, a postponement of the call-up is being considered,” the state said.

Earlier this week, the cabinet approved a proposal for reforms to Israel's military conscription law that would abolish wholesale exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. Under the proposal, during an interim period, the numbers of Haredim drafted or doing national service would gradually increase.

But the state said Thursday that the conscription of yeshiva students who have already been called up “does not conform with the government’s proposed bill. It could actually foil the government’s efforts to handle the issue.”

A lawyer for the petitioners, Gilad Barnea, criticized Ya'alon's decision. "Deferment of conscription, if it happens, will be done without legal authority and in stark contrast to earlier High Court rulings," Barnea said.

According Uri Regev, president of the nonprofit group Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality, “The state’s response illustrates the coalition’s determination to pass a law that supposedly ensures an equal sharing of the burden without actually doing so. Unfortunately, this is just one more step in a massive exercise of self-deception.”

Zohara Berger-Tzur of the group Forum for Equal Service said Ya'alon "is once again betraying his duty and lending a hand to discrimination and intolerable benefits for yeshiva students.”

In any case, the Israel Defense Forces is preparing for increased numbers of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, for whom special areas are being set up at some army bases. At Base 80, for example, a compound is being prepared for two companies that will have only male instructors and commanders.

An ultra-Orthodox soldier of the Haredi unit in the Nahal infantry brigade at an IDF ceremony, July 4, 2013.Credit: Aaron Steinmetz

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