The Knesset committee working on the bill mandating reform to the ultra-Orthodox army draft is to begin voting on the various clauses on Monday, in what promises to be a tense process. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said Saturday that his party would leave the coalition if the bill did not call for criminal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox men who dodge the draft.
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The committee, headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), has been meeting for seven months in an attempt to agree on a formulation.
The bill is to be brought to the Knesset for its second and third readings in the middle of March, as part of a “package deal” together with the so-called governance bill and a bill for a Basic Law requiring a referendum before Israel would give up any land as part of a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians.
Speaking on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” program, Lapid said the new law would not include special criminal sanctions against young Haredim who do not report for the draft, because the criminal sanctions already in place in such cases would also apply to the ultra-Orthodox.
However, added, Lapid, “We will not sit in a cabinet that does not pass a law equalizing the sharing of the burden, and it has to be real.”
In conversations with members of the committee, it emerged that the matter of criminal sanctions against draft-dodgers is close to resolution. According to one lawmaker, “The decision on criminal sanctions was made a long time ago. There will be criminal sanctions if the Haredi public does not meet the draft quotas to be determined. The discussion at the moment is whether to impose economic sanctions before the criminal ones, and at what point precisely the criminal sanctions will be applied.”
For the past few days, Yesh Atid has sharply criticized the intention to approve a clause that the party says will sap the new law of its punch. That clause states that the cabinet will decide whether the ultra-Orthodox population is meeting its annual draft quotas according to criteria to be determined. However, the original law, formulated by the Perry Committee, demanded complete compliance with the draft quotas that were to be determined ahead of time and could not be eased.
A source in Yesh Atid called the controversial clause “an opening for political blackmail.”
A look at the draft of the bill to be approved by the committee shows a number of gaps between it and the Perry Committee formulation of the law, which passed less than a year ago and on which the Shaked Committee’s discussions were based.
For example, the original law called for young men to be drafted from a pool of 18–26 year olds in the “Haredi public.” In the Shaked Committee formulation, the age group is 18–24 and the draftees are to be drawn from yeshiva students and “graduates of Haredi educational institutions.”