Enlisting Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews into national service ought to be done “without sanctions, and without threats,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday, ahead of the Peri Committee’s vote on a proposed bill to amend Israel’s universal draft laws.
“Right now we’re dealing with the proper outline necessary for the integration of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs” into national service — either military or civil, Ya’alon said.
The Peri Committee was set to vote late Sunday night on its final proposal for universal conscription, which, if passed, would require ultra-Orthodox 18-year-old men and women to register for service or suffer monetary or criminal penalization.
“The correct way is not through denouncement and hatred, without speaking about sending those who learn Torah to prison, without sanctions and without threats,” Ya’alon said.
Three ministers on the Peri Committee opposed criminal penalties for noncompliant yeshiva heads. Culture Minister Limor Livnat, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel reportedly said they’d vote down personally penalizing principals whose students don’t enlist.
The National Union of Israeli Students — a major proponent of universal conscription — on Sunday announced its support for the Peri Committee’s proposal. Union Chairman Uri Rashtik said that his organization approved the outlined proposal, but that it would “fight for the imposition of criminal and economic sanctions on those who don’t fulfill the legal requirements of the universal draft.”
According to the draft proposal, 18-year-old yeshiva students engaged in full-time Torah study would be allowed to defer service until age 21, at which point they would have to choose either to enlist in the IDF or register for national or civil service. Those who defer their service would have to be registered at yeshivas whose student bodies are subject to regular government auditing. Yeshivas that receive state funding and register their students for service deferment would also be required to introduce vocational training into their curriculum.
Individuals who do not register for the draft would be subject to criminal prosecution, as would yeshiva heads whose institutions do not comply with the new law. The bill also mandates incentives and penalties for yeshivas according to their compliance with the registration rules.
The bill allows for 1,800 top Torah scholars to be entirely exempted from service per annum, far below the estimated 7,000-8,000 ultra-Orthodox 18-year-olds who do not currently register each year.
The proposed legislation also features changes to the general conscription framework, including a shortening of service for males from 36 to 32 months, and an extension of service for females to 28 months, up from 24. The plan would also gradually extend and expand the Hesder yeshiva program, which combines Torah study with military training and would be available as an option for ultra-Orthodox recruits, as well.
Most of the changes would roll out in 2016, including the criminal prosecution of individuals who do not register for the draft, allowing for a transitional period in which to build up the bureaucratic and physical infrastructure needed to implement the changes.
The bill sets gradual, increasing recruitment goals for the ultra-Orthodox, beginning this year with the goal of 2,000 registrations for the IDF and another 1,300 for national and civil service. It also sets a 6,000-per-year recruitment goal for Israeli Arabs into national service.