Gantz warns Netanyahu not to advance law that would continue Haredi draft exemptions

National Unity leader says PM’s bill would ‘not promote fair service,’ would ‘severely damage Israeli society’ for political purposes

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits during a press conference along with Minister Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits during a press conference along with Minister Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday night not to present his version of an ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill to the cabinet this week, arguing that it would not boost enlistment among Haredim.

Gantz indicated that a vote in the cabinet was scheduled for Wednesday, and said such a move would be deeply divisive, telling Netanyahu that advancing such a proposal for “political purposes” would be a mistake.

The High Court of Justice ruled in March that the state must cease payments to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for students eligible for the draft, since the legal framework for doing so has expired. As a result, Netanyahu has to deal with a severe political headache owing to the high priority Haredi political parties that funding.

The attorney general has also stated that there is no longer any legal framework to avoid drafting eligible ultra-Orthodox men into the army, meaning that there is now heavy political pressure on Netanyahu to come up with a legislative proposal that satisfies his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners to avoid a severe political crisis.

“Prime minister, as the soldiers of the IDF and their commanders are fighting and suffering, on the eve of a Memorial Day that is the most difficult since the establishment of the state, you are acting to introduce a law that does not promote fair service in the country, [and that] will harm recruitment to the IDF, security and Israeli resilience,” Gantz said on Saturday night in a video message.

“I urge you to stop and come to your senses. Introducing such a law is a big mistake at any time, [but] introducing it as you plan, 48 hours after we celebrate the heroism of our fallen, will severely harm Israeli society and its resilience,” he continued. “Prime minister — Do not dismantle Israeli society during a war, for political reasons.

Head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party MK Aryeh Deri speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote on the state budget in the Knesset plenum, December 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court is scheduled to hear arguments over petitions demanding the immediate enlistment of Haredi yeshiva students on June 2. Although the government was to have presented the court with its legislative plans for increasing ultra-Orthodox enlistment by May 1, the court gave it an extension after the government failed to come up with concrete proposals.

Last week, public broadcaster Kan reported that Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs is working on an ultra-Orthodox enlistment plan together with the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, United Torah Judaism and Shas.

While details are scant, it appears the proposal is not in line with the demands of Gantz, who together with fellow National Unity member Gadi Eisenkot previously presented his own outline for Haredi recruitment and has stated that he “will not be a partner to exercises and tricks at the expense of the state’s security needs.”

And Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that he will not support any proposal not backed by Gantz and Eisenkot, creating further political difficulties for Netanyahu.

In March, Netanyahu reportedly told representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties that he would promote a private bill that would exempt yeshiva students from military conscription.

According to Kan, Netanyahu promised the Haredi parties he would promote private legislation because there is little chance that a government-sponsored bill currently under discussion would receive the go-ahead from either the cabinet or Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who has expressed reservations regarding its legality.

By taking the private bill route, Netanyahu may be able to bring the legislation to the Knesset floor without needing to win approval from the cabinet or attorney general, though he will be unlikely to find much support for it outside United Torah Judaism and Shas, the coalition’s two Haredi parties.

Most Popular
read more: