Israel Defers Conscription of ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Students, Pending Draft Reforms

Nearly 600 yeshiva students who were meant to begin serving in August get deferral until November; opponents say Defense Minister Ya'alon's decision spits in the face of other young men who are serving.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Due to the delay in the passage of Israel's new draft-reform bill, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has decided to defer the conscription of yeshiva students who have already received their draft notices until November.

During the course of this year, 560 yeshiva students received draft notices in accordance with the Defense Service Law, which states that enlistment to the Israel Defense Forces is mandatory for all citizens who have turned 18. They were to be drafted on August 18.

Last week, Haredi lawmakers tore their clothes as a sign of mourning and held a special prayer service after the Knesset approved Yesh Atid’s draft-reform bill on its first reading by a vote of 64 to 21 on Tuesday morning. The bill, drafted by a committee headed by Jacob Perry (Yesh Atid), stipulates that Haredim who have reached age 18 will be obligated to join the army starting in 2020. According to the bill, over the next seven years — three years after the acclimation period that has been set for the reform — Haredim will be able to defer their enlistment until the age of 21 “to study Torah.”

The state is expected to submit an official response Monday, as part of a petition submitted on the draft issue to the High Court of Justice. Supreme Court President and Chief Justice Asher Grunis set a deadline of today for the state prosecutor to respond to the petitioners, and explain how the defense minister intends to act regarding yeshiva students who are supposed to report for duty starting this August.

“There is no alternative but to postpone drafting them until November,” Ya’alon told Haaretz. “Then we’ll see which of them has the desire or the ability to join the army, and which of them will receive a deferral on the grounds that ‘Torah study is their occupation’.” According to Ya’alon, the second and third readings of the draft-reform bill are scheduled to take place in the Knesset during the recess or at the start of the next session.

According to the Defense Service Law, officials at the induction center can defer the draft of those who have received call-up orders for up to two years. The Perry Committee’s draft-reform bill proposes that yeshiva students be permitted to defer their draft up to age 24, so if the bill passes as planned, there would be a problem for 5,100 yeshiva students who have been called up.

According to an officer in the IDF Personnel Directorate, the solution taking shape may be a deferral of up to two years for those Haredim, under a statute of the Defense Service Law. After that period ends, each day or month that goes by without their being drafted is considered time served, according to the army. If the yeshiva student defers of his won volition, however, once the deferral period ends, they will not be credited with time served.

“Defense Minister Ya’alon doesn’t have the authority to defer the service of yeshiva students,” said Shahar Ilan, vice president of Hiddush, which advocates for freedom of religion and equality in shouldering the civic burden. “The attempt to do so is an underhanded move and a blatant disregard of the rule of law and the constitutional principles of the State of Israel.”

Ilan continued, “The plan to defer enlistment for yeshiva students who have received draft notices for August spits in the face of thousands of draftees in July and August who are not Haredi. It is a formal declaration on the part of the state that the blood of Haredim is worth more than that of others.”

Ilan said he hoped the High Court of Justice would issue a temporary injunction against the deferral, so that the army will “for the first time in its history truly realize the principle of compulsory service for the Haredim.”

A Nahal Haredi soldier. Credit: Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau