Court grants coalition just 3-month delay to pass law on ultra-Orthodox draft

State sought 7-month deferment of deadline for legislation to regulate recruitment of yeshiva students; if new law doesn’t pass, election countdown will begin

Ultra orthodox Jewish men protest against the army draft, at the entrance to Jerusalem on March 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra orthodox Jewish men protest against the army draft, at the entrance to Jerusalem on March 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday granted a three-month extension on a deadline it had set for passing legislation regulating military service for members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

The state had requested a postponement of seven months from the original September deadline, but was granted less than half of that.

“After considering this matter, we decided to partially respond to the request and postpone the date… so that it will take effect on December 2, 2018,” the court said in its ruling.

The court ruling, which forces the government to tackle the politically destabilizing issue immediately after the Knesset returns from its summer recess in October, could destabilize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

Yaakov Litzman, deputy health minister and head of the United Torah Judaism party, had threatened to resign from the government unless the court extended its deadline to legislate the bill. His ultra-Orthodox party cited the need for dramatic changes to the current version of the bill, which has been wending its way through the Knesset.

In its application submitted last month, the state noted that “this is an unusual request, submitted as a last resort against the backdrop of a sensitive issue.”

Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF’s ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion sit in a field at the Peles Military Base, in the Northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Last September, the High Court ruled that a 2015 version of Israel’s draft law granting most yeshiva students draft exemptions was unconstitutional, and gave lawmakers a year to institute new guidelines for ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

But the Knesset concluded its spring session on July 19, and will not reconvene for the fall session until mid-October.

Without the amended legislation in place, current deferral regulations would expire with the deadline and thousands of yeshiva students would find themselves unable to renew their deferments, making them eligible to be drafted by the IDF.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The contentious current version of the legislation, backed by the Defense Ministry, sets minimum yearly targets for ultra-Orthodox conscription that, if not met, would result in financial sanctions on the yeshivas, or rabbinical seminaries, where they study.

It passed its first reading in the Knesset at the beginning of the month, the first of three readings it must pass before becoming law.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said he will not support any changes to the current proposal.

If the ultra-Orthodox parties left the coalition the government would not have a majority, forcing Netanyahu to either bring opposition parties into his government or head to new elections. Elections are currently scheduled to be held in November 2019.

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