Finance Ministry Set to Revolutionize Draft Conditions for Haredim

Ministry proposal would amend Economic Arrangements Law to expand Haredi draft deferral options for yeshiva students.

The Finance Ministry has placed a number of clauses in the Economic Arrangements Law that would revolutionize military draft conditions for yeshiva students. As of Wednesday, the decision whether to allow students to choose civic service inside of military rests with the Defense Minister and military authorities. The new proposals hands over the choice to the students themselves, and offers an exemption from reserve service for ultra-Orthodox beginning at the age of 25, instead of 35.

Yeshiva students receiving their draft deferments
Ouria Tadmor

Some aspects of the ministry's proposal have been previously reported, but the full content of the bill - posted on the website of Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich - proposes a more far-reaching proposal than previously known. The defense establishment is widely expected to oppose the move, since its practical effect would be allowing a much quicker way for ultra-Orthodox to avoid the draft.

The proposal obliges the defense minister to agree to a request of anyone wishing to enlist for civic instead of military service "to anyone who is 22 years of age and falls under a four-years draft postponement, without considering his marital situation, beginning on September 1, 2010." This represents a sharp departure from the current legislation, which allows the minister and the IDF to enlist a yeshiva student for military service up to the age of 26, making exceptions usually only for parents and individuals with a poor medical profile.

Another clause in the proposal instructs the minister to use his authority to "exempt from regular service anyone aged 22 who has two or more children, or anyone aged 25 and older." Those receiving such exemptions will be automatically transferred to the military reserves.

The proposal also suggests setting up a committee headed by a representative of the finance ministry's budget department, to discuss expanding the list of organizations in which civic service can be performed.

The proposal greatly expands the possibilities for young ultra-Orthodox to avoid the draft, through bringing the exemption from regular service forward by 10 years and allowing to opt for civic service at a much earlier stage. This contradicts the existing army policy, which enjoyed the finance ministry's support, to expand possibilities for military services for ultra-Orthodox.

The chances of advancing the plan remain unclear, especially with the protracted coalition negotiations and give-and-take, as well as the Supreme Court scrutiny that await the Economic Arrangements bill. The Supreme Court has been monitoring the implementation of the Tal Law, which lists the conditions of military draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, and has been critical of the state's conduct in this regard.

Director of the Hiddush movement for Religious Freedom and Equality, Rabbi Uri Regev, told Haaretz that the proposal was "an anti-Zionist plan to institutionalize draft dodging, discrimination and the cancelation of the people's army."