Gallant: I won’t support Netanyahu’s Haredi draft bill without coalition consensus

Proposed outline of legislation reportedly does not include enlistment quota for ultra-Orthodox community or criminal sanctions for those who don’t serve

Defense Minister gives a statement on March 24, 2024. (Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Defense Minister gives a statement on March 24, 2024. (Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday that he would not support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outline for a Haredi draft law, and criticized his fellow coalition members for refusing to be “flexible” on the issue of blanket exemptions from the IDF for the ultra-Orthodox community, as the deadline to present new legislation draws closer.

Speaking ahead of his departure for Washington, where he will meet with his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gallant said that reaching an agreement on the issue was “essential for the existence and success of the IDF,” and appealed for a compromise to be found.

“This coming Tuesday, a proposal for a decision on the recruitment issue will be brought to the government by the prime minister, on his initiative,” he continued. “My position has not changed. I will not be a party to any proposal that isn’t agreed upon by all coalition factions — and under my leadership, the security system will not submit it for legislation.”

“There is still time to come together and form a joint proposal,” Gallant added. “I again call on the prime minister and Minister Benny Gantz to take advantage of the time that remains and forge a broad consensus on the issue of the conscription law, for the benefit of the IDF and the benefit of the State of Israel.”

The relationship between Gallant and Netanyahu has been rocky in the past, with the prime minister firing him last year when he spoke out against the judicial overhaul, a move he later retracted amid widespread outrage and mass protests. Amid the ongoing war in Gaza, the two have largely appeared to put their differences aside, but Gallant has made his views on the issue of Haredi enlistment clear.

Ultra-Orthodox men of military age have been able to avoid the draft for decades by enrolling in yeshivas for Torah study and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a press conference in Tel Aviv. December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A law that authorizes these exemptions expired in June 2023, and a temporary regulation that extended it is set to expire next week, after which the military will not be authorized to exempt Haredi young men from the draft and will need to start enlisting them.

As the deadline nears, the government has been rushing to legislate a new version of the law, with the ultra-Orthodox parties demanding continued exemption while other coalition factions including members of Likud and the far-right Religious Zionist party have been demanding that the Haredi community performs military service.

As this issue is being legislated, Israel is waging war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza. The war, which started on October 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel in which terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253, highlighted the disparity between the sectors of Israeli society that serve in the IDF and the ultra-Orthodox community, where the rates are close to zero.

According to the Ynet news outlet, the outline Gallant was referring to does not set a quota of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting per year; sets the age of exemption from service at 35; and ensures that Haredi men who don’t enlist will not face criminal sanctions. It also includes a plan to set up special ultra-Orthodox battalions in the IDF and add Haredi positions in the country’s emergency services and government offices.

The draft is set for a cabinet voted on Tuesday while Gallant is visiting Washington.

The draft version was heavily criticized by the opposition, who said it would not lead ultra-Orthodox men to enlist and would encourage them to continue evading compulsory military service.

Gantz has long called for a fundamental change to the draft process and has been pushing for his own outline, which would require all Israelis, including Haredim and Arabs, to serve the country either in military service or in civilian positions that benefit society.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews during a protest in Rosh Pina, following the arrest of an Haredi man who failed to comply with the army draft, September 13, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Sunday called the government’s purported draft bill “the evasion law,” and said it was “the face of the worst government in the country’s history.”

“They have no shame,” he said. “After half a year of painful war, the IDF is experiencing a shortage of soldiers, and the government is getting an exemption from military service for tens of thousands of young men.”

The Movement for Quality of Government said the suggested bill was “another transparent and shameful attempt to avoid the clear truth — that there is no replacement for full and real equality.”

“Equal sharing of the burden is an existential need for the State of Israel and its society, and it cannot be achieved without legislating an equality draft law that will apply to everyone.”

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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