AG says army must start process to draft Haredim, warns against trying to bypass court

In letter to ministries, Gali Baharav-Miara says conscription effort should begin Monday, cautions against any ploy to maintain court-cancelled budgets for yeshivas

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/ Flash90/ File)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/ Flash90/ File)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the Defense Ministry and Education Ministry Sunday that the process of drafting members of the ultra-Orthodox community into the army must begin the next day, while also warning against any attempt to continue funding yeshivas that harbor students who dodge their army service, against court orders.

In a letter to legal advisers for both ministries, Baharav-Miara and Deputy Attorney General Gil Lemon noted that the state needs to tell the High Court of Justice by the end of the month what steps it is taking to draft the Haredi community.

“Beginning April 1, 2024, there will be no source of authority for a blanket exemption from military conscription for yeshiva students, and the defense establishment must act to draft them into military service in accordance with the law,” wrote Baharav-Miara, in a letter first published by Channel 13 news.

A government resolution from June 2023 instructing the IDF to temporarily not draft Haredi students despite the expiration of a law governing the matter will expire at midnight on Sunday night.

By March 31, the government was supposed to have found a way to comply with a court ruling from 2017, which determined blanket military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to be discriminatory and illegal.

But the government has failed to legislate a new law to regulate the matter that would be acceptable to the court, leading to the need to begin drafting members of the community.

Kan news reported that Baharav-Miara delivered the same message personally to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant following the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem earlier in the day.

As the deadline approached, the High Court of Justice last week issued an interim order freezing state financial support provided to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for students who receive annual deferrals from military service after the cabinet resolution expires — as their deferrals will no longer be legal.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox men after clashes during a protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, as a group of soldiers stands behind them, March 4, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Baharav-Miara wrote in her letter that the Education Ministry may not attempt to circumvent this High Court order by, for instance, increasing the amount of money it pays to yeshivas per yeshiva student. Since some yeshiva students still have a valid military service deferral from before June 2023, it would be theoretically possible to bypass the court order by paying more for each student with a valid deferral, thereby maintaining the previous income level of a given yeshiva.

“The Education Ministry will refrain from any step that would circumvent the interim order… whether by increasing the budget and the ‘points value’ of the support criteria, or through other funding channels, or any other way,” the attorney general wrote.

Her warning appeared to be in part a response to media reports that Netanyahu had formed a team to review potential pathways to bypass the court’s instructions.

A source close to Netanyahu, speaking anonymously to various media outlets, accused Baharav-Miara of trying to divide Israeli society.

“It’s not clear why it is so pressing for the attorney general to create a division in Israeli society over the draft,” the source said, noting that the court had agreed to Netanyahu’s request to hold a second hearing on funding for yeshivas in front of a panel of nine judges in May.

Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Hanoch Milwidsky of Netanyahu’s Likud party called for Baharav-Miara to be fired, saying it would be “correct and justified.”

Posting to social media platform X, Milwidsky alleged that Baharav-Miara was abusing her position “in an unprecedented and dangerous way,” but stressed nothing should be done until the end of the ongoing war against terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Ynet reported that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was considering freezing the yeshiva budgets, but keeping the funds on ice with the hope they can be released to the yeshivas at a later time.

Brothers in Arms members scuffle with police and ultra-Orthodox Jews in the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem calling for equal conscription laws to be implemented. March 31, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Meanwhile, the Brothers in Arms anti-government activist group rallied in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, calling for the community to fulfill army service. There were some reported clashes between local residents, demonstrators and police. One man was arrested.

It seems unlikely that military police will begin actively enforcing conscription orders from Monday. But ultra-Orthodox men who are eligible for the draft and fall foul of traffic violations or try to leave the country could face arrest, Channel 12 news has reported.

The political battle over enlistment has thrown Netanyahu’s coalition into disarray, with National Unity’s Benny Gantz threatening to bolt if the Knesset passes a bill allowing blanket exemptions to remain — even if it does satisfy the court — while the Haredim have said they will quit if the government fails to pass legislation to prevent the draft.

Most Jewish Israeli men are required to serve nearly three years followed by years of annual reserve duty. Many Jewish women serve two years. But the politically powerful Haredim, who make up roughly 13% of Israeli society, have traditionally received exemptions if they are studying full-time in a yeshiva or religious seminary. The exemptions — and the government stipends many yeshiva students receive through age 26 — have infuriated the wider general public.

That frustration has peaked since Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught and the war that has ensued, as soldiers are losing their lives, and some are being asked to expand their reserve service amid a manpower shortage and as the threats facing Israel grow.

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