Israel's AG: Reforms Giving ultra-Orthodox Shorter IDF Service Will Add to Inequality

Draft reform stipulates that service for yeshiva students will be shorter than for other soldiers.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday approved the proposal for universal military conscription, despite saying that parts of the reform were problematic from a legal perspective.

Weinstein presented his legal opinion to the government-appointed Perry Committee, which was tasked with formulating a new draft proposal for the Israeli army that also includes ultra-Orthodox men. He told the panel that the part of the reform dealing with Hesder yeshiva students - who combine Torah study with military service - raises legal issues.

According to the draft proposal, Hesder yeshiva students would serve one month longer than they do now, for a total of 17 months of active duty. Other soldiers are performing military service that lasts 36 months.

The draft reform proposal is expected to be presented to the cabinet on Sunday for approval; if it gets endorsed there, the proposal will move on to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation before being discussed in the Knesset plenum.

Weinstein said that since the proposal does not call for immediate enlistment, but rather for yeshiva students to serve in starting in about four years, "It is not necessary to decide about the legality of the length of Hesder yeshiva students' service." The current arrangement could continue for four years during the period of adjustment to the new law, he said.

However, from July 2017 the attorney general expects another loophole that may enable shortened service only for religious soldiers. Once the "adjustment period" is over, and with the beginning of compulsory induction of all yeshiva students, "the 17-month service of Hesder yeshiva students is liable to cause constitutional harm to equality. It will be necessary to hand down an opinion on the issue, and if needed to alter the arrangement so the requirement of equality will be met."

Weinstein also commented on the issue of extending female soldiers' service, which the Perry Committee decided would be lengthened to 28 months instead of the present two years. He said there is yardstick by which to judge the length of women's service and that as such it would be difficult to rule whether it is a step toward equality or not. However, religious women are currently exempt from military service, while men serve for three years (which would be shortened to 32 months under to the proposed law).

The attorney general said "there is no constitutional obstacle to approving" the draft reform proposal, but noted that wording of several clauses is "problematic" since they could harm the principle of equality.

In his opinion, Weinstein focused on the "transition period" until full service is required starting July 2017. The Perry Committee proposed several forms of leniency toward Haredi yeshiva students during that time, as compared with the general public, which the attorney general says should have clear time limits.

Weinstein said accepts the view that Haredim should not be compelled to serve before the end of the "adjustment period," adding that service until then should be voluntary.

Weinstein criticized the proposed alternative of offering national service offered to yeshiva students, noting the difference in scope, difficulty and danger of serving in the IDF compared with civil frameworks.