Shaked Panel Calls for Army Exemption for Zionist Yeshiva Students

Students, largely affiliated with MK Shaked's party Habayit Hayehudi, will be able to postpone service until age 26.

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The parliamentary committee headed by MK Ayelet Shaked charged with drafting a new compulsory military service law on Tuesday approved a plan to postpone army service for students at “elite Zionist yeshivas” affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox-national-religious (“Hardal”) movement.

Under the agreement, these students, largely affiliated with Habayit Hayehudi, will be able to postpone their draft into the Israel Defense Forces in order to continue studying in yeshivas, in some cases until age 26.

Approval of the plan prompted outrage from ultra-Orthodox Knesset members, mostly because of the primary criteria that will determine which students will be allowed to claim such postponements if they are alumni of the religious-public education system. MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) expressed his opposition, asking, “What makes the Zionist yeshivas different from other yeshivas? I say the characteristics of these yeshivas are that most of the students don’t have televisions at home, that their wives keep their heads covered. Does the fact that their students were educated in government-religious schools make a difference? Can that definition even hold up in the Supreme Court?”

Knesset members Ayelet Shaked and Ofer Shelah also had to fend off the defense establishment’s criticism of the Shaked committee’s decision not to lengthen women’s military service by four months and demand that the army propose a different alternative. The committee approved the shortening of men’s army service by four months and Shaked, the committee head, told army representative Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon that the committee had no majority for lengthening women’s service. As a result, heavy pressure is being applied to MKs about the issue.

In an unusual measure, Shaked and Shelah issued a joint statement on Tuesday subtly criticizing the Israel Defense Forces’ stance on drafting women. “The army knows that it does not need a significant portion of the women who serve for a period of more than two years,” they said, adding that the vote on women’s military service “was postponed only until an agreed-upon alternative is found.”

Referring to reports that IDF officials had criticized the decision not to lengthen women’s service as “mistaken and tendentious,” they said, “It is obvious to everyone that the army does not need everybody who is drafted for three years [referring to the men]. The disparity in the length of service for those vital to the army is compensated for in three different ways: money, drafting the Haredim and drafting women.”

They added, “The defense establishment and the Finance Ministry reached an agreement that the annual compensation for shortening army service will be NIS 550 million per year, according to the conclusions reached by the Ben-Bassat committee. It will fund alternatives of a short period of career service for combat soldiers and technological solutions.”

Regarding military service for Haredim, Shaked and Shelah wrote, “The shorter period of army service, which will go into effect in July 2015, will affect a number of soldiers for the first time in March 2018. By then, the number of Haredim who are drafted is expected to increase significantly, in accordance with the equal civil tights and obligations laws.”

IDF officials say that men’s military service cannot be shortened unless the women’s term of service is lengthened.

Previously, the Shaked committee decided not to accept a proposition that would allow individuals serving as Chabad emissaries abroad to postpone their military service while working in Chabad houses around the world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz mentioned the issue on Tuesday for the first time at a graduation ceremony for officers of the ground forces at Bahad 1, the IDF officers’ school. Netanyahu told the officers: “You, the men and women officers of the army, come from all parts of the country and all parts of the nation. I would like to see more equal representation of all parts of our society on this parade ground. It is right and just for everyone, and we are working in that direction these very days.”

Gantz also spoke of the subject during the ceremony at which the officers’ ranks were given out. “The call ‘After me!’, which has always come from here, needs to go out loud and clear. It is appropriate that it is from here that the Israeli public should hear the call to all the young people to rise up and serve their country.”

Addressing the graduates’ parents, he said, “The public calls the discussion ‘equal civic responsibility.’ We call it ‘the privilege of serving,’ and this privilege must be fought for.”

Religious Israel Defense Force soldiers praying, 2007.Credit: Alex Levac

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