Israeli Army Officials: Arresting ultra-Orthodox Draft Dodgers Is Ineffective

A contentious bill seeking to protect Haredim from mandatory conscription has created a major rift in the government, with some predicting snap elections

An ultra-Orthodox man walks past advertisements against drafting Haredim to the army, Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, March 4, 2018.
Emil salman

Senior officials in the Israeli military who have been asked to provide their professional opinion regarding the contentious draft bill (which seeks to protect ultra-Orthodox Israelis from mandatory conscription and has created a major rift in the government) said that they thought Haredi men should be prosecuted for dodging draft.

Instead of taking the criminal-legal route against ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers, the army officials suggested, Israel ought to examine alternative solutions to the issue which can then be implemented in the civilian world.

Senior officials in the military prosecution echoed this assessment. They said that enforcing the law against Haredi draft dodgers and making them face indictments for failing to show up at the recruiting office, even just to be notified that they're exempt from service, is inefficient and just intimidates and antagonizes draft dodgers.

The different officials were asked to weigh in on the topic as part of ongoing government work surrounding the bill, which is backed by ultra-Orthodox parties but strongly opposed by some prominent voices in the coalition. When asked to provide its own assessment, the Israeli military assigned the task to its prosecution.  

The army recommended that the different elements overlooking the subject re-examine the sanctions that Haredim who refuse to show up at the induction center face today. At present, draft dodgers who don't come to the army's recruiting station to receive an official exemption note are officially considered to be defectors. In such cases, the army is then required to look after the individuals in question and bring them to arrest for defying Israeli law.

When ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers are arrested, they are brought in front of the military court, which usually imposes a prison sentence.

The military believes that the aforementioned process burdens the army system with redundant work, but more importantly, it does not promote a concrete solution to the problem. An army source claims that to this day, arrests did not lead to a rise in the number of Haredim who draft but rather had the opposite effect.

The extreme faction within the ultra-Orthodox society that refuses to show up at the recruiting office sees young Haredim who are arrested as role models in the group that they belong to. The army does not think that ultra-Orthodox men who recruit do it out of fear of being arrested, but rather as a result of internal social changes in the Haredi sector; for this reason, experts in the army think that the two phenomena should not be linked.

Army officials stated that it would be far more effective for the state to employ a civilian enforcement system against ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. "We asked for this to happen several times," a senior IDF source said. He explained that revoking people's driving licenses, postponing payments, denying them free exit from the country and other solutions could drive the draft dodgers to serve much more than the threat of incarceration would.