An amendment to the conscription law that would delay the application of criminal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox men who do not enlist in the Israel Defense Forces passed its first Knesset reading on Monday by a vote of 60-45.
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The bill’s second and third readings will take place in 10 days, as per a commitment Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other coalition party leaders made to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism).
Under the current law, the draft deferrals now granted to all Haredi yeshiva students will end on June 30, 2017. After that, the cabinet will set annual quotas for how many Haredi must enlist in either military or civilian national service. If the quotas are met, deferrals for other Haredi yeshiva students would remain in effect until 2020. If not, sweeping deferrals would remain in force for students up to age 21, but all students over that age would have to do either military or civilian service, except for 1,800 exceptional scholars who would be granted permanent exemptions.
The law also states that once yeshiva students become liable for the draft — whether in 2020 or earlier if the quotas aren’t met — those who refuse to serve will be subject to criminal sanctions like all draft-dodgers.
The proposed amendment retains the sweeping exemptions until June 30, 2020. That will be followed by three years of voluntary quotas, as in the existing law, but with one difference: If the quotas aren’t met, the defense minister will to draft the number of Haredi students needed to fill the quota, rather than all those over 21.
The amendment will also defer the application of criminal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox draft-dodgers until June 30, 2023.
“Based on government policy formulated on this issue, it would be right and proper to continue advancing the fulfillment of the enlistment quotas in the Haredi community to military service and national civilian service through cooperation and tangible methods of achieving this objective,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said when presenting the bill.
MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), who is leading the opposition to the move, said in response, “The draft equality law brought relief to Israel's citizens and healed rifts in Israeli society. Finally there was no difference between blood and blood.
“I don’t think even the defense minister believes what he’s saying. After all, only a year ago, the defense minister, prime minister and members of the previous coalition voted in favor of this law,” Levy continued. “How can they look at themselves in the mirror and vote otherwise?”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said, “I don’t know what I’ll tell my son who’s due to come home from the army. What should I say? That his commander-in-chief sold him out for coalition games? I always taught him that the prime minister is supposed to worry about every person, citizen and soldier. Now I have to explain to him that it’s not that way, and that they are lying at the expense of IDF soldiers.”
MK Menahem Eliezer Moses of UTJ countered by saying, “Yair Lapid said in an interview during the elections that criminal sanctions were not his creation or that of Yesh Atid, but came from the attorney general. How does that correlate with what’s going on here? Yesh Atid’s people speak about integrating Haredim into the workforce. Under Lapid’s law, there will be a head tax on the Haredi public, and criminal sanctions and criminal records. How can you get a job with a criminal record?”
MK Yisrael Eichler called for an end to the compulsory draft, so that the IDF would get only the manpower it really needed. “The army has excesses and a lot of people it doesn’t need. The army has no choice and has to draft everyone. Compulsory draft has become a divisive issue and we have to move toward voluntary enlisted. The whole compulsory draft is an anachronism.”
MK Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu decried Haredi attempts to portray the draft law as anti-Jewish. “All the heroes of Israel were warriors, like King David, Judah the Maccabee, and Avner Ben Ner, and none of them were lesser Jews than Moses or [UTJ MK Meir] Porush,” he said. “I have no argument with the Haredim, but with the national movement. What the Likud is doing is betraying Zionist values.”