Israeli Panel Agrees ultra-Orthodox 'Draft-dodgers' Should Face Criminal Sanctions

Perry Committee had been split over controversial provision in IDF reforms law giving defense minister authority to impose criminal sanctions if quotas not met.

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The Knesset committee appointed to draw up new legislation that would extend mandatory military service to most young ultra-Orthodox men in Israel voted Wednesday morning to impose criminal sanctions in the event that draft quotas for Haredim are not met.

Opposing sides on the panel, called the Perry committee after its chairman, Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry, reached agreement in a meeting and phone calls among members Tuesday night on the issue, which earlier in the week led to an impasse that at one point even threatened to bring down the coalition.

The bill initially set regular quotas for the number of Haredi men to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces by 2016. The final version approved by the committee states that if the ultra-Orthodox community doesn't meet its interim draft targets, all young ultra-Orthodox men, with the exception of 1,800 yeshiva students who will receive exemptions - will become subject to the terms of the Defense Service Law, including the criminal sanctions set by that law.

The formulation is closer to the position of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, which called for automatic criminal penalties for Haredi draft evaders, than that of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who demanded the final say over applying criminal sanctions if draft quotas are not met.

If the interim draft targets for Haredim are met, a new target will be set and the economic sanctions applied in the interim period will be continued. Ya'alon agreed to support the new clause after wording that infringed upon the defense minister's authority was removed. In addition, the interim period was extended by one year, to 2017.

The compromise came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ordered Ya'alon to reach an agreement. The Perry committee already approved most of the articles in the draft law on Sunday, including the imposition of criminal sanctions on yeshiva heads who file false declarations regarding students' attendance at their institutions.

Additionally, committee members approved the extension of mandatory service for hesder yeshiva students - mainly religious Zionist men who combine their military service with religious studies in an army-approved framework - from 16 months to 17 months - significantly less than the compulsory service of most Israelis.

At the start of Wednesday's committee session a few cabinet ministers verbally attacked Perry and his party, Yesh Atid.

"This topic is too sensitive to make petty politics out of it," Ya'alon said, adding, "If we demonstrate aggression toward the Haredi community everything will fall apart, even the Haredi Nahal." The latter was a reference to an existing IDF unit for Haredi men that predates the current debate over expanding the draft to include most ultra-Orthodox men.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel also blamed Perry for the committee's impasse earlier in the week.

"You behaved in an uncongenial manner and shunted us aside," Ariel said, adding, "Your behavior showed contempt for the [coalition] agreements that you signed. There is a shared outline and you are simply running roughshod over it."

Surprisingly, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) backed Perry in the confrontation, telling Ariel, "It's true there is a shared outline and coalition agreements, but you can't make this argument only when it is convenient for you."

She went on to tell Ariel, sardonically, to remind her to mention coalition obligations when voting on the bill to include women in the body that selects Israel's chief rabbis in the event Ariel's Habayit Hayehudi had second thoughts on the issue.

After his confrontation with Perry, Ariel's voted in favor of the article detailing criminal sanctions and then abstained from voting on the bill's other articles.

The bill is expected to go to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for discussion in around three weeks, after which it will be brought up for debate in the Knesset plenum and then to a vote.

In the wake of the Perry committee's approval of the draft law's wording Wednesday morning, MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) asked the attorney general to examine its arrangements for hesder yeshiva students for its "conspicuous inequality to the benefit of the population of which Habayit Hayehudi is the patron."

She contrasted the treatment of religious Zionist hesder yeshiva students to the situation of the Haredi community, which she described as "being faced with a heavy hand that isn't necessarily constitutional."

The fact that the law does not deal equally with different Israeli communities could lead to a culture war, Michaeli warned.

Nahal Haredi soldiers training.Credit: Archive
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.Credit: Alon Ron

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