Defense minister says IDF will start drafting ultra-Orthodox men next month

Move comes after last month’s landmark High Court of Justice ruling that there is no legal basis to not conscript Haredi men

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

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)
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)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced Tuesday that the military will begin the process of drafting ultra-Orthodox men starting next month, a move that is in accordance with a recent landmark High Court of Justice ruling.

Gallant held an assessment on the matter with military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other officials Tuesday morning, his office said in a statement.

Following the meeting, Gallant “approved the IDF’s recommendation to issue [draft] orders” to members of the ultra-Orthodox community next month, “in accordance with the [IDF’s] absorption and screening capabilities, and after a significant process of refining the existing data regarding potential recruits is carried out,” the statement said.

The statement added that Gallant and Halevi said in the meeting that drafting ultra-Orthodox men to the army is an “operational necessity and a complex social issue” that requires allowing  soldiers to “maintain their lifestyle.”

Also participating in the meeting were Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Amir Baram and other top officials, including Maj. Gen. (res.) Eliezer Shkedi, who at the request of Gallant, wrote a lengthy report laying out how the country could effectively recruit and integrate members of the ultra-Orthodox community into the IDF.

The ministry said that an “information campaign for the ultra-Orthodox population” would also be launched next month, showing the various “service paths adapted to the ultra-Orthodox in the IDF, per the recommendations of the Shkedi Committee.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the Mount Hermon region on the northern border, July 7, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Last month, the High Court ruled that there was no longer any legal framework allowing the state to refrain from drafting Haredi yeshiva students into military service, and the attorney general ordered the government to immediately begin the process of conscription for 3,000 such men — the number the military has said it is able to process at this preliminary stage.

The army faces a problem, however, of how to choose which men should be drafted from the pool of 63,000 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. To expedite the process, the military requested on Thursday information from the National Insurance Institute regarding the employment history of the aforementioned pool, as the IDF likely prefers to conscript Haredi men who work instead of attending yeshivas.

It is illegal for yeshiva students with military service exemptions to work, but the various state institutions and government ministries dealing with military service and employment appear not to be coordinated in terms of monitoring and enforcing the law.

The Haredi religious and political leadership fiercely resists and protests any effort to draft mainstream yeshiva students who are actually involved in religious study.

Police officers disperse ultra-Orthodox Jews blocking a highway during a protest against army recruitment in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, June 27, 2024. (AP/Oded Balilty)

The military currently requires some 10,000 new soldiers, Gallant said in the Knesset on Monday, but can only accommodate the enlistment of an additional 3,000 ultra-Orthodox this year due to their specific needs (which would be in addition to the 1,800 Haredi soldiers who are drafted annually).

The issue of ultra-Orthodox conscription is among the most contentious in Israeli public discourse. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that military service is incompatible with their way of life and fear that those who enlist will be secularized. Many Israelis who do serve, however, say the decades-long arrangement of mass exemptions unfairly burdens them, a sentiment that has strengthened since the beginning of the war, which has seen over 300 soldiers killed on Israel’s various fronts as well as over 300,000 citizens called up to reserve duty.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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