IDF opposes draft exemption for Haredim, presents new outline for mandatory service

Days after Netanyahu discusses new draft law to give ultra-Orthodox men earlier exemptions, IDF says conscripting Israelis from all parts of society is of utmost importance

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

File: Young Israelis line up at an army recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, on July 25, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
File: Young Israelis line up at an army recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, on July 25, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday presented a new outline for military service, amid plans by the government to grant ultra-Orthodox men earlier exemptions from drafting to the army.

The IDF indicated that it was opposed to the plans discussed by the government earlier this week that would essentially give Haredim a blanket ban from army service, stating that drafting Israelis from all parts of society is of utmost importance.

According to the IDF’s plan, all conscripts will be drafted to serve a minimum of 24 months, with combat and other essential roles being conscripted to stay on for longer — up to 36 months — with a significant pay raise during the additional months.

Under the plan, soldiers in special units that are considered voluntary will serve 36 months, while other combat roles, essential technological roles, and male technicians and drivers will serve 32 months. Administration roles and female technicians and drivers will serve the minimum of 24 months.

The result of the plan would be an average service time of 28.5 months, according to the IDF, which would not harm the military’s competency. The IDF in the past has opposed shortening mandatory military service.

Currently, military service is compulsory for Israeli men, who serve for 32 months, while women serve for 24 months. Still, several units require troops to stay on longer than their compulsory time, due to lengthy training periods.

Amid intentions by the government to give Haredim an earlier exemption from army service, the IDF said it would continue to send enlistment letters to ultra-Orthodox males who turn 18.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men walk alongside Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem on December 5, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The IDF said it would continue to provide special draft routes for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

In practice, however, 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.

Critics say the IDF and government have not done enough to raise the number of ultra-Orthodox troops.

In the IDF’s new outline, it stated that the so-called “people’s army” model —  one in which all Israelis are meant to serve — is the source of its strength.

A senior IDF officer said earlier this week that lowering the final exemption age, thereby enabling Haredim to enter the workforce at a younger age instead of draft dodging by remaining in yeshiva, is acceptable provided there is “appreciation” for serving soldiers.

The officer also stressed, however, that, “The IDF is the people’s army,” and the balance by which the draft is applied “to all sectors of the population, including the haredim,” must not be broken.

The government’s latest tentative proposal, discussed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some coalition partners on Sunday, would lower the age of final exemption from the army from the current 26 to 23 or 21. While soldiers are generally drafted from age 18, many yeshiva students are thought to remain in religious study programs longer than they normally would in order to dodge the draft by claiming academic deferments until they reach the age of final exemption age. By lowering the permanent exemption age, the government hopes to spur those Haredi men to leave the yeshiva and enter the workforce at a younger age.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has been reported to support setting the age of exemption at 23, but on condition that another bill is passed that would give additional benefits to soldiers and veterans, giving combat soldiers and other essential roles a significant pay raise while soldiers in non-essential positions would serve less time.

It was unclear where the budget for these initiatives would come from.

An expert told The Times of Israel on Monday that the government 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 violently against military conscription.

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