Government may submit Haredi draft proposal to cabinet next week

Liberman calls on Gantz and Eisenkot to withdraw from coalition if government promotes legislation intended to prevent enlistment of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Ultra-Orthodox Jews outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs is working on an ultra-Orthodox enlistment outline with Haredi parties that could be presented to the government for approval as early as next week, national broadcaster Kan reported on Wednesday.

Such a proposal could be intended to show the court that the government is making progress on finding a path forward on enlisting Haredim.

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

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that he will not support any proposal not backed by Gantz and Eisenkot.

Responding to the Kan report, Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman on Thursday appealed to Gallant, Gantz and Eisenkot “to be loyal to the values ​​of the IDF as the people’s army, and not support the new non-conscription law promoted by the government.”

It was not clear whether Liberman was privy to details on the plan, or was simply assuming it would fall short of providing a true solution to the issue.

“I call on Defense Minister Gallant to announce that the proposal as formulated by the cabinet secretary is unacceptable to him, and for ministers Gantz and Eisenkot to declare that if the government approves the shameful proposal, they will immediately announce their withdrawal from the coalition and the government,” he tweeted.

Speaking with the Haredi news site Behadrei Haredim on Wednesday, Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Minister Meir Porush, a senior member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said that it remained unlikely that a consensus would be reached with critics of exemptions.

Minister for Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As such, members of the Haredi parties believe that the only way forward is to negotiate with Fuchs and for Netanyahu to introduce a bill himself, Behadrei Haredim reported.

Netanyahu has reportedly told representatives of ultra-Orthodox parties that he will promote a private bill exempting yeshiva students from military conscription following the upcoming Knesset recess.

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 attorney general or members of his cabinet who have criticized his previous proposals as insufficient.

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.

Successive Netanyahu governments have struggled to come to a consensus on legislation dealing with the issue since a 2017 High Court of Justice decision determined blanket military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to be discriminatory and unconstitutional, and ordered the state to find a solution to the issue.

The law allowing for blanket military service exemptions expired in June 2023, and a subsequent government resolution instructing the IDF not to enforce conscription on such men despite the expiry lapsed on April 1.

The High Court issued an interim order on March 28 that state funding for Haredi yeshivas for students obligated to enlist must be frozen, and that there was no longer any legal framework to not draft eligible Haredi men to the IDF.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews block a road and clash with police near Bnei Brak during a protest against the enlistment of yeshiva students, April 1, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

This presented a massive political problem for Netanyahu and his coalition, since he does not have a majority without the ultra-Orthodox parties, for whom the blanket exemptions from military service and yeshiva funding are critical priorities.

Last Wednesday, the State Attorney’s Office told the High Court that the government needs several more weeks to finish working on a draft plan aimed at regulating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men.

In its submission to the court, the state said its plan would immediately draft at least some ultra-Orthodox men into the army, and include a program for longer-term conscription from the community.

According to the government’s statement to the court, Defense Minister Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, and other senior officers and officials in the army and Defense Ministry have held a series of meetings at which “options for preparing the security establishment to draft members of the ultra-Orthodox public were examined, while taking into account the different complexities relating to the size of the community, its characteristics and the needs of the current war.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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