The rabbinic councils of all three Orthodox parties in Israel issued a statement prohibiting their yeshiva students from enlisting in the Israeli military.
The senior rabbis of the Lithuanian haredi Orthodox Degel Hatorah and Hasidic Agudat Yisrael, which together constitute the United Torah Judaism Knesset party, and the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, issued the statement following a joint meeting on Monday night.
The rabbis called for the cancellation of any Knesset committee bill that would draft yeshiva students into the military and urged “all yeshiva students not to enlist to the army in any way whatsoever, not to surrender to any blandishments and punishments, and not to cooperate with the army induction center for haredim, but instead to toil in their studies day and night.”
The rabbis called for a mass prayer rally in two weeks against the new conscription bill being drafted by the Knesset’s Shaked committee that would levy criminal charges against yeshiva students who evade the draft.
President Shimon Peres declared his opposition Monday to the levying of criminal sanctions on Haredi draft dodgers. “The need for dialogue is essential in my opinion,” Peres said at a meeting with students at Bar-Ilan University. “I would not include this issue in criminal affairs.” Peres argued that everyone should serve, but “not everyone should serve in the army. It is possible to serve elsewhere.”
The landmark provision, drafted by the Shaked Committee on February 19, mandates army service for 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox Israeli men. The provision imposes criminal penalties on non-compliant yeshiva students. According to the terms of a working draft, such penalties would go into effect in 2017.
Under the bill, Haredi men between the ages of 18 and 24 would be able to claim draft exemptions from national service, one year at a time. Draft quotas would be determined by the number of eligible ultra-Orthodox men under the age of 24.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid praised the Shaked Committee’s approval of the bill last Thursday, saying it was a resurgence of Zionism that fixed a major flaw in Israeli society.
If passed into law by the Knesset plenum, “a legal and historic aberration that has continued for 65 years [would be] fixed because we were determined and stood our ground,” Lapid said. “This wound in the heart of Israeli society is finally starting its recovery process.”
Lapid attempted to assuage ultra-Orthodox concerns that the move would undermine the integrity of religious society, saying universal draft “is not an attempt to plot against your way of life. Nobody wants to harm you or your way of life.”