In First Round Vote, Israeli Parliament Passes Military Draft Bill for Yeshiva Students

The legislation, which would lower the age at which yeshiva students are exempt from military conscription, was defeated two weeks ago when a coalition member voted against it

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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The Knesset chamber two weeks ago when a vote on military conscription legislation failed.
The Knesset chamber two weeks ago, when a vote on military conscription legislation failed. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The Knesset passed Monday in the first of three votes legislation that would lower the age at which yeshiva students are exempt from military conscription.

The bill was backed by 51 lawmakers, while 48 opposed it. The legislation was defeated two weeks ago when the governing coalition failed to muster a majority to pass it.

The bill is part of a government plan to lower the age at which yeshiva students are exempt from the draft from the current age of 24. It would initially be lowered to 21 for two years, then rise to 22 for a year and then increase indefinitely to 23.

The move is intended to encourage ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to enter workforce at a younger age rather than their remaining at the yeshiva out of concern that if they halted their religious studies, they would be subject to the draft.

The vote two weeks ago failed when it ended in a 54-54 tie after Knesset member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of the Meretz party, which is part of the coalition, voted against it. She did so in protest at the advancement of a citizenship bill that would again limit the right of Palestinians married to Israelis to obtain Israeli residency and in protest at Jewish National Fund tree planting in areas being farmed by Bedouin in the south.

This time around, Zoabi voted in favor.of the conscription legislation.

After the bill failed two weeks ago, Defense Minister Benny Gantz introduced it again in a bid to have the Knesset vote on it as soon as possible. That was done to comply with a ruling by the High Court of Justice in a case before it challenging the exemption for yeshiva students.

The court invalidated the existing legislation on the draft. But it said if new legislation is advanced quickly, it would consider granting an extension suspending the ruling, which otherwise would subject yeshiva students to the draft.

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