A Knesset committee on Wednesday approved a landmark provision in a draft bill mandating army service for 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox Israeli men. The provision imposes criminal penalties on non-compliant yeshiva students.
The Shaked Committee, tasked with drafting the legislation setting the parameters of Haredi army conscription, met into the night Wednesday and voted on the provision after 10 p.m.
The criminal penalties would begin in 2017, according to the terms of a working draft.
Under the bill, Haredi men between the ages of 18 and 24 would be able to claim draft exemptions from national service, one year at a time. Draft quotas would be determined by the number of eligible ultra-Orthodox men under the age of 24.
Under the proposal the committee approved, a three-year transition period will begin once the Knesset approves the bill. During those three years, a target will be set for the number of ultra-Orthodox enlistees each year. The target number will rise each year until 2017, when it will reach 5,200 new Haredi enlistees.
If the ultra-Orthodox community meets the 2017 quota, then they will be required to continue to meet quotas every year. If, however, they fail to meet the target in 2017 or any subsequent year, all ultra-Orthodox men will be drafted like other Jewish and Druze men when they reach the age of 18.
After the committee, headed by Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), voted in favor of the criminal sanctions article, MK Moti Yogev (also Jewish Home) called for a re-vote. Shaked accepted the motion and a re-vote will be held imminently. The proposed criminalization provision is widely expected to pass another vote, with Finance Minister Yair Lapid committed to the measure, and the prime minister reportedly supporting him.
The equality in service bill, in its entirety, is expected to soon be put before the Knesset plenum. There remain a few committee votes on outstanding articles.
Haredi news outlet Kikar Hashabbat reported that ultra-Orthodox opponents to the bill were planning to stage a large protest early next week.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor Party) said the committee’s approval of the bill was a step in the right direction, “but was definitely not enough.” He said equal service didn’t mean having a nearly four-year grace period, at the end of which “only 5,200 ultra-Orthodox enlist out of 45,000.”
If it becomes law, the bill would add “tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox to the workforce, who currently survive on state pensions, and bring about a dramatic increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox serving in the military and civil service,” MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said.
Hiddush, an Israeli NGO backing Haredi enlistment, had called on the Shaked Committee to vote against the criminal sanctions, calling the idea an unrealistic proposal intended for political gain.
“Everyone knows that it will be impossible to throw thousands of yeshiva students in jail,” said Hiddush in a written statement, “and we are talking about a law for headlines and Facebook statuses that will be impossible to implement.”
The bill would be a successor to the Tal Law, which granted ultra-Orthodox men exemptions from compulsory military service and was struck down in 2012.
Earlier this month, Lapid halted state payments to religious seminaries which house draft dodgers. This, along with the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox man who refused to enlist, sparked widespread protests throughout the country earlier this month by thousands of Haredi demonstrators.