Haredi parties said to back down from demand to pass IDF draft law before budget

Shas, UTJ reportedly acquiesce to Netanyahu’s request to wait on highly contentious legislation, but leading rabbis must sign off

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with United Torah Judaism MKs Yisrael Eichler, center and Meir Porush in the Knesset, January 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with United Torah Judaism MKs Yisrael Eichler, center and Meir Porush in the Knesset, January 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

The coalition’s ultra-Orthodox political parties have agreed to delay the passage of legislation to exempt Haredi men from IDF service until after the state budget has been passed, potentially avoiding a coalition crisis, according to multiple reports Sunday.

The unsourced report in numerous Hebrew media outlets said United Torah Judaism and Shas have both acquiesced to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to push off passing a bill on the highly contentious issue by a few months, likely until the fall Knesset session in October.

While the coalition agreements signed between the parties and Likud committed to pass such legislation before the state budget is passed, the government now has only four weeks to clear the complicated, two-year trillion-shekel budget through the committee process and two more votes on the Knesset floor before its May 29 deadline, or risk triggering an automatic dissolution of parliament and snap elections.

The Haredi parties reportedly agreed that passing the budget and ensuring the stability of the government is the best way for them to eventually pass such legislation later this year.

However, reports noted that key Haredi rabbis behind the political parties must still sign off on the delay.

Heading into the cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, UTJ Minister Meir Porush told reporters that it was “for the good of the Jewish people that this issue will receive once and for all a correct solution.”

The issue of Haredi enlistment in the IDF is highly contentious both within and outside of the current coalition, and is a topic that has been hotly debated for decades. The High Court of Justice has twice struck down broad religious study exemptions, and the Knesset has failed to draft legislation to both skirt anti-discrimination laws and satisfy ultra-Orthodox politicians.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews block a road during a protest against the ultra-Orthodox draft bill, outside the city of Bnei Brak, February 9, 2022. (Flash90)

Instead, defense ministers have been requesting and receiving extensions on passing legislation on the issue from the court. The current, 15th extension is scheduled to expire on July 31, 2023.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu held a hearing on a potential solution to lower the blanket military exemption age from the current 26 to between 21 and 23 for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, to let community members transition earlier from full-time religious study into the workforce without losing their shield against being drafted.

It was unclear if the latest proposal would be supported by Haredi lawmakers. In the past, similar plans to lower the age of exemption have been fiercely opposed by ultra-Orthodox MKs who claim it is a ploy to draw Haredim out of Torah studies and the Haredi way of life.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police as they protest against the arrest of a Haredi Jewish man who failed to comply with the mandatory military draft, in Jerusalem, September 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

In practice, only around 1,000 Haredim are drafted to the IDF each year, out of around 11,000 ultra-Orthodox males who turn 18 each year.

An expert told The Times of Israel earlier this month that the government’s latest legislative plans are likely to be rejected by the High Court of Justice.

The Haredi population of Israel overwhelmingly opposes performing mandated national civil or military service, seeing it as a way for external forces to potentially draw away its members. Some more extreme elements in the Haredi community have protested against military conscription using violence.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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