Government tells court Haredi enlistment plan being drawn up, but more time needed

State says plan will include immediate conscription of at least some ultra-Orthodox men, is accused of continuing to drag feet on combustible issue

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and youth raise placards during a protest against Israeli army conscription outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem on April 11, 2024. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and youth raise placards during a protest against Israeli army conscription outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem on April 11, 2024. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

The government needs several more weeks to finish working on a draft plan aimed at regulating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men into the military Wednesday, the State Attorney’s Office told the High Court of Justice Wednesday in response to petitions demanding an immediate end to Haredi conscription exemptions.

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.

The state’s legal filing came a day after a court-mandated deadline to respond to its interim order in March instructing the government to cease state funding paid to yeshivas for students of military age after petitions filed last year demanded the immediate conscription of ultra-Orthodox men, and an end to taxpayer support for yeshivas attended by religious men in lieu of military service.

The government has been under pressure to formulate new regulations for drafting ultra-Orthodox men since a law allowing for blanket military service exemptions for Haredi yeshiva students expired in June 2023. The government initially instructed the IDF not to enforce conscription on such men, but that resolution expired at the end of March this year.

On March 28, the High Court ordered the state to cut funding for yeshiva students eligible for the draft as of April 1.

“Staff work is ongoing with the aim of formulating action plans and actions by the relevant bodies in the IDF and the defense establishment to implement the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox men in the immediate time frame, and actions that will also affect conscription in the longer term,” the state told the court in its submission Wednesday.

Protesters demanding ultra-Orthodox military conscription demonstrate outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, February 26, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state added, however, in its submission that the program will be for the “gradual recruitment of members of the ultra-orthodox public.”

According to the government’s statement to the court, Defense Minister Yoav 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 during 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.”

The state said, however, that it still needs “several weeks” to complete the plan and asked the court to grant it an extension to the April 30 deadline to submit the plan before the next hearing on the petitions, which has been set for June 2 in front of a panel of nine High Court justices.

Former High Court Chief of Justice Esther Hayut and High Court justices arrive for a court hearing in Jerusalem, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government, which includes two ultra-Orthodox parties opposed to conscripting members of the Haredi community, has dragged its feet repeatedly in responding to the petitions demanding immediate Haredi enlistment. The highly combustible issue has risen to the fore as the army has dealt with manpower issues due to the current war with Hamas in Gaza and fighting on the northern border.

In response to the state’s submission to the court, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid called on the government to “stop wasting time and draft the ultra-Orthodox immediately.”

Lapid, a long-time, vocal advocate for ending ultra-Orthodox exemptions from military service, demanded “mandatory service for everyone” and urged that those who do not serve “should not receive a penny from the state.”

“You can’t say ‘Together we will win’ if we don’t mobilize together,” he added.

‘AG bypass’ opposed

In connection to the petitions for immediate Haredi enlistment, the Attorney General’s Office issued a sharply worded letter to the government on Wednesday, accusing it of seeking to undermine the standing of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara within the framework of its behavior regarding those petitions and in continuation of the judicial overhaul program.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

The government has sought private representation in the High Court instead of that of the attorney general, since the latter opposes its position in which it seeks to continue funding ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and not enforcing military conscription on young Haredi men until it passes a new law allowing for ultra-Orthodox service exemptions.

In a letter sent by Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs, Limon argued that the government’s request for private representation was designed “to give a rubber stamp” to the IDF and other state agencies to act in accordance with the state’s position on yeshiva funding and Haredi enlistment in the period before a new law is legislated.

“This course of action is a continuation of the attempt, which is part of what was called the ‘legal reform,’ to weaken the status of the attorney general, bypass it and harm its ability to protect the public interest and the rule of law,” Limon told Fuchs.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, a hard right member of the Likud party, lambasted Baharav-Miara in response and called for her dismissal.

“Every day that this woman continues in her job is a disgrace to Israeli democracy, and an injury to the state, its security, and the unity of the people,” complained Karhi on X. “She needs to go home now!”

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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