Knesset Passes New Draft Law, Which Includes Haredi Conscription

Opposition boycotts vote in protest at what it said were government moves designed to limit debate.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A new draft law, in terms of which young ultra-Orthodox men will be conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces beginning in 2017, was approved by the Knesset on Wednesday morning.

The law was approved by 65 votes to 1, with the opposition boycotting the ballot. The only opposing vote was cast by MK Yoni Chetboun (Habayit Heyehudi).

Under the law, Male service in the IDF will be reduced from 36 months to 32 and the numbers of ultra-Orthodox men conscripted into the army will be raised gradually on an annual basis until June 2017.

The opposition boycott was prompted by the government’s tabling of three key laws simultaneously as a ‘package deal,’ as well as its extraordinary decision to limit debate on each of the three bills, thus preventing opposition filibusters.

In response to Satbon’s vote, Habayit Hayehudi suspended his membership in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and withdrew his right to propose Knesset bills for six weeks following the Knesset’s summer recess.

MK Ofer Shelach, chairman of the Yesh Atid Knesset caucus, welcomed the passing of the law, describing it as a true and implementable reflection of “the principles we have been fighting for. Everyone must serve and everyone must work to support himself.”

The law, Shelach said, “is the start of a new era in Israeli society, which will bring more equality and create a more united society.”

MK Moshe Gafni (Yehadut Hatorah,) who boycotted the vote, responded that “Israel today lost the right to call itself a Jewish or a democratic nation. The Haredi community will not forget this and it will not forgive Netanyahu and his partners for trampling on the delicate fabric that binds the different communities in Israel.”

The other two parts of the "package deal" are the governance law, which was passed on Tuesday, and the referendum law which passed on Wednesday.

In terms of the new law, the number of ultra-Orthodox men conscripted into the army will be raised gradually on an annual basis until June 2017. From that point on, 5,200 ultra-Orthodox men will be conscripted into the army or national service every year. The government can increase the target figure, but not reduce it.
From 2017, the law will be legally binding and draft dodgers will be liable for punishment, including imprisonment. In addition to legal proceedings, they will also be liable for economic sanctions, by means of budget cuts for yeshivot that don’t meet targets. Institutions that do meet targets will receive additional budgets.

The Labor Party caucus in the Knesset went ahead with its planned boycott of the vote, despite announcing that it supported the law. In a caucus vote on the boycott on Tuesday night, it transpired that five members of the caucus, including Shelly Yacimovich, Omer Bar Lev and Iyzik Shmuli, were in favor of voting for the law.

Several caucus members have complained in recent days about what they say is the over-tight embrace of the ultra-Orthodox parties and have expressed concern that the joint boycott could damage the Labor Party in the eyes of its supporters. In the end, the party decided to maintain the boycott while expressing its support for the law – despite concerns about two clauses.

“Instead of looking for the widest common denominator, the coalition preferred to widen the gulfs and exacerbate the situation,” the Labor MPs wrote in their statement.

Opposition parties are absent from a Knesset vote on the new draft bill, March 12, 2014.Credit: Michal Fattal

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