Editorial |

The ultra-Orthodox Are Drafting an Old Trick to Dodge the Draft

A riot after an ultra-Orthodox woman is arrested for not wearing a mask in the Givat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem, October 11, 2020.
A riot after an ultra-Orthodox woman is arrested for not wearing a mask in the Givat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem, October 11, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The original sin that split the right-wing bloc, led to the dissolution of the 20th Knesset in December 2018, prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government in April 2019 and plunged the country into a whirlpool of elections – from which it has been unable to escape for two years – is back to haunt us again on the eve of the fourth round of elections. But this time, there were those who made sure to take preventative action first.

On Tuesday, the government informed the High Court of Justice that it was requesting to extend the legal validity of the law which exempts yeshiva students from being drafted into the Israel Defense Forces. The law was supposed to expire on Tuesday, and the IDF has already begun to prepare accordingly (Aaron Rabinowitz, Haaretz, February 2). The government’s request was based on Article 38 of the Basic Law on the Knesset, which states: “Any legislation that would have expired within the last two months of an outgoing Knesset’s term, within four months after a Knesset decided to dissolve, or within the first three months of an incoming Knesset’s term shall remain in forceuntil the end of the aforesaid three months.”

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But even though the state’s response says the request was presented with the agreement of Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit – it turns out that the “state” asked the High Court for the extension even though last week Gantz announced that he would not ask the court to postpone the expiration of the validity of the law.

So, what happened? Deputy Minister Uri Maklev of United Torah Judaism spoke with the Prime Minister’s Bureau, and all the rest is history. In other words, the state of Netanyahu is behind the request for the extension.

This is not surprising. This is the same person who closed down the country, who shut down the economy, who closed the schools in non-religious cities and impaired the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of salaried workers, self-employed and business owners – just because it was unpleasant for him to impose a lockdown only on “red” cities because they were mostly Haredi. This is the person who is conducting a policy of selective enforcement, and in practice has exempted the Haredim from obeying the law concerning the coronavirus regulations; the person who legislated Basic Laws just so he can provide grants to Haredi institutions, while bypassing the restrictions on a continuing budget. It is only natural that he would ask the High Court of Justice to wait and not handle for now the explosive issue of drafting yeshiva students until after the election. God forbid, it could harm his holy alliance with his Haredi partners – without whom he doesn’t have a government.

If there is one lesson we have learned over the past year it is that there is a need to heal the relations between the state and the Haredi community. The matter of military enlistment must be part of this new accord, which is supposed to be formulated between the two sides. But the continued political horse trading – which is conducted in the dark backrooms with the goal of maintaining Netanyahu’s rule – is the complete opposite. The coming elections will be conducted over this too.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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