Knesset Approves Extension of ultra-Orthodox Army Exemptions

Yair Lapid accuses government of having ‘no values’ after vote negates key point in his flagship legislation from the previous government.

Ultra-Orthodox men sit next to ultra-Orthodox soldier at IDF recruitment base.
Yaron Kaminsky

The Knesset plenary has approved an amendment which is viewed by many as backtracking on attempts by the previous government to see Israel's ultra-Orthodox enlisted into the Israel Defense Forces.

The Knesset passed an amendment to the Conscription Law in its second and third readings, extending the period of full exemption for young ultra-Orthodox men from 2017 to 2020, and deferring the enforcement of criminal measures, if quotas are not met, until 2023.

The resolution passed by a count of 49 to 36 votes. The Joint Arab List did not participate in the vote and did not agree to balance out the number of coalition MKs who could be absent from the vote, as is customary. This gave the coalition extra support for passing the resolution.

Daniel Bar On

Coalition whip MK Tzachi Hanegbi presented the bill that was agreed on with the ultra-Orthodox parties as a condition for their joining the coalition. “The government believes that it is possible to meet the target numbers for conscription ... through cooperation with the ultra-Orthodox public” said Hanegbi.

“The arrangement set out in the law will advance the integration of ultra-Orthodox men in military service or in civilian national service. The statement that the conscription law was annulled or that there is no sharing of the burden, beyond its populism, is a baseless description of reality.”

Yesh Atid, along with the University Students’ Union, will petition the High Court of Justice to strike down the amendment. Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid, who led the protest against amending the law, which he initiated in the 19th Knesset, said that “in an incident-laden week, with funerals and people in hospitals, this is the time the Knesset chooses to vote against IDF soldiers and fighters.”

He added: “The reason Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett and Moshe Ya’alon voted to annul the law is that they have no values. They claim that Yesh Atid coerced them to pass this law in the previous Knesset and that in this Knesset the ultra-Orthodox are coercing them to annul the sharing of the burden.”

MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) said that “people speak of sharing the burden. I ask myself what this burden is. Essentially it’s the willingness of young men to pay the ultimate price, giving their lives to the state.”

MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) said that “everyone wants to keep their Knesset seat, especially the prime minister, who yielded to immoral dictates. He doesn’t care about equality.”

Some ultra-Orthodox circles consider even the diluted version anathema. United Torah Judaism, a coalition member, is accused by extremist Orthodox Jews of assisting sinners, bringing about Judaism’s ruin. Party activists are blamed for allowing any conscription at all, a move which will change the face of the Orthodox Jewish world. Particularly venomous attacks were directed at MK Moshe Gafni, who insisted that he had removed many laws directed against the ultra-Orthodox and that the Lapid initiative would be completely eradicated over time.

An Ultra Orthodox Jew looks on at a protest in front of the main army recruitment office in Jerusalem. May 2013.
AFP