Cabinet rejects appeal against bill lowering Haredi draft exemption age

Gallant and Gantz criticize the move, say they won’t support the legislation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting, April 7, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting, April 7, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The cabinet rejected an appeal Monday by MK Chili Tropper against advancing a bill that would lower the age of exemption from military service for yeshiva students — paving the way for the Knesset to revive the 2022 legislation.

The bill “will be brought to a vote within 14 days” in the Knesset on whether it can be revived from the previous legislative session, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Earlier this month, after failing to agree with his Haredi coalition partners on military service for their traditionally exempt community, Netanyahu announced that he would revive the bill, which would lower the age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi yeshiva students from the current 26 to 21 while “very slowly” increasing the rate of ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

The lower army exemption age would mean Haredi yeshiva students wishing not to serve could leave full-time study at a younger age and potentially join the workforce.

The move by Netanyahu was criticized by both minister Benny Gantz, who had initially promoted the bill while serving as defense minister, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said that he would block any draft law “brought unilaterally by some of the coalition factions.”

While promoting the bill two years ago, Gantz insisted that it needed to be accompanied by efforts to extend the national service requirement to both Haredi and Arab Israelis.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz in a video message issued May 23, 2024, demanding the immediate establishment of a state commission of inquiry in the events leading up to October 7, 2023. (Screenshot)

After the cabinet on Monday rejected the appeal by Tropper, a member of his National Unity Party, Gantz said that “the meeting today was painful proof that politics come before Israel’s security for the government’s ministers.”

“Instead of enlisting [Haredi men] to service, they’re trying to buy time, and instead of pitching in for the war effort, they’re uniting over coalition considerations,” he said.

Gantz pledged that the bill would not pass in Knesset and would not be tolerated by the High Court of Justice and the Israeli public.

Haredi women and male yeshiva students are generally exempt from military service due to controversial longstanding arrangements.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men near a sign reading ‘army recruitment office’ during a protest against the drafting of Haredim to the military, in Jerusalem, May 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In 2017, the High Court of Justice invalidated the legal exemption as discriminatory and ordered the government to pass a new conscription law. The government has since been unable to agree on legislation, repeatedly extending the non-conscription policy, while Haredi politicians have sought to pass legislation cementing the exemptions.

Many Haredim believe that studying the Torah helps protect the Jewish people and even the country, and fear that serving time in the army would dilute adherence to their strict ways of life and lead impressionable members of the community astray.

Among non-Haredi Jews, this is widely perceived as draft-dodging by a group that refuses to integrate into mainstream society.

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