Israeli Panel Votes to Excuse 1,800 Elite Yeshiva Students From IDF Service

In first significant step toward equalizing burden of military service, Knesset's Perry Committee submitted its report on IDF reforms; Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has two years to draft amendments on which yeshiva students will be eligible for exemption.

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The Israeli panel tasked with finding a way of equalizing the burden of military service voted Sunday unanimously in favor a clause exempting 1,800 elite yeshiva students.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has two years to draft a series of amendments to determine which yeshiva students will be eligible for exemption. The rabbis of a particular yeshiva will be able to participate in the selection should they opt to coordinate with the state on the matter.

The Knesset's Perry Committee submitted its report on the Israel Defense Forces reports last Thursday to the Cabinet Secretariat, in the significant first step toward implementing a new draft arrangement for the army.

The proposed new law obligates every Jewish 17-year-old male to undergo registration and examination procedures upon receiving the first call-up order, and provides for the establishment of an IDF intake center for the ultra-Orthodox. At the same time, religious men can opt for a yearly postponement for purposes of Torah learning until they are 21.

Postponement of service will require at least 45 weekly hours of learning at a yeshiva and vocational training under the auspices of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. After that, the yeshiva learner will be required to report for duty under the Military Service law. At that time the Israel Defense Forces will decide whether to conscript him for military service or to transfer him to a civilian service framework.

Prior to the deliberations on Sunday, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu have coordinated a demand that legislation to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces require the drafting of Arabs as well.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi ) said his party would not support the plan proposed by the Perry committee on the issue unless the bill included as many Arabs as ultra-Orthodox. He said making demands on one group was "unjust and improper."

The Perry committee is expected to hold a marathon meeting Sunday night and to vote on the bill's clauses. Officials on the committee said they expected the vote to take place despite Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's request to postpone the vote for two weeks because his office had not had a chance to examine the proposals closely.

Habayit Hayehudi is flexing its muscles because of its opposition to another recommendation by the committee - to extend the service of hesder yeshiva students from 16 months to two years. Hesder yeshiva students combine yeshiva studies with military service. If the demand stays, the party will vote against the bill, Ariel said.

Despite the heavy pressure by some factions on the panel, a senior committee member said Saturday that "if there are no unexpected political moves, the vote on the bill will pass smoothly in the committee."

The only member of the Perry committee likely to oppose the bill is Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beiteinu ), at the behest of his party chairman, MK Avigdor Lieberman. But Habayit Hayehudi may vote for the plan when it is presented with a compromise plan to gradually extend the service of hesder yeshiva students.

If the committee approves the bill today at its preliminary stage, it will move on to the Justice Ministry for 21 days to let the ministries and public respond. Only then would it go to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for a vote.

Haredi men at an IDF induction center.Credit: Nir Keidar

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