Knesset Committee Votes to Shorten Men's IDF Service to 32 Months

Shaked Committee says no majority for extending women's service by four months.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The parliamentary committee to seeking to reform Israel's military draft law on Monday voted in favor of shortening men's compulsory army service to 32 months, down from a full three years.

The panel, headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), convened Monday for a marathon series of votes to approve the draft reforms. These include reapproving the track for Hesder yeshiva students, in which they serve only 17 months in active military service and the rest of their time in the yeshiva.

At the start of the meeting, Shaked told Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate, that there was no majority on the committee to support the army's request to extend women’s compulsory military service to 28 months.

She asked Agmon to present an alternative plan by Wednesday for extending women's army service. Agmon told the committee that it would be impossible to shorten the men's service without extending that of the women.

One MK on the committee, speaking anonymously a day earlier, called it "unfair to increase the burden on those women who actually enlist. It is especially difficult based on the fact that, at the same time, we are setting in law the demand to set the enlistment of Hesder yeshiva [students] at only 17 months.”

“Extending women’s service in the IDF will only increase the inequality between female soldiers who serve and those women who receive an exemption for religious reasons, and will increase the burden on the women who do serve,” said another MK.

The vote on the main section in dispute between the sides – on whether to impose criminal penalties on Haredim who do not appear for service, has been postponed to next week, in an attempt to reach a compromise.

The main conflict between parties Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi is over this issue, and concerns the question of when the state will implement the general draft law for the entire population. This includes criminal sanctions for those who evade service, including the ultra-Orthodox population.

The committee is nearing success in reaching an agreement with the Chabad movement that would allow the enlistment of all the movement’s young men of draft age, said sources involved in the committee.

In the expected deal, all young Chabadniks would be drafted after they complete a period of one or two years abroad as a representative of the movement.

In the agreement with Chabad, the state would recognize this period of overseas service (shlichut) and the IDF would not consider them deserters during this period – as was the case until now. Many young men who returned from their overseas assignments and were labeled as deserters did not enlist in the IDF ultimately, said committee members.

Alongside the expected no vote Monday on extending women’s service in the IDF by four months, committee members are also expected to reapprove the track for Hesder yeshiva students, in which the yeshiva students serve only 17 months in active military service and spend the rest of their time in the yeshiva. The deal is considered the main “dowry” that Habayit Hayehudi is providing its voters.

women soldiers
Woman soldier in the IDF.
Women soldiers in the IDF.
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Women soldiers are increasingly being incorporated into IDF combat units.Credit: Michal Fattal
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Woman soldier in the IDF.Credit: Michal Fattal
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Women soldiers in the IDF.Credit: Michal Fattal
Women soldiers in the IDF

The shortened 17-month service period has drawn some criticism, including public criticism from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. In the proposed wording, Hesder yeshiva students would serve “no less than 17 months.”

Weinstein has announced that, starting in 2017 – the year in which the law on draft reform takes full effect – there will be a need to reexamine the length of service of Hesder students.

In a letter Weinstein sent to Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, he wrote: “Starting from the date at which enlistment will fall on the entire public, clear damage to the principle of equality will be created as a result of the gap between the length of service of two main populations: 32 months of service for the general public, including Haredi yeshiva students, compared to 17 months of active service for Hesder yeshiva students who study and serve in the Hesder track.”

In the version set to be approved today, the Defense Minister will formulate a list of Hesder yeshivas – based on the criteria that will be determined in regulations – and will take into consideration the recommendations of the association of Hesder yeshivas.

Women soldiers in the IDF.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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