Knesset passes first reading of bill that raises retirement age for IDF reservists

Opposition slams coalition for moving to renew temporary service extension for reserve troops, noting parallel effort to exempt Haredi students from mandatory military enlistment

Illustrative: IDF infantry reservists take part in a military maneuver in the Golan Heights, on April 1, 2024. (Michael Giladi/ Flash90)
Illustrative: IDF infantry reservists take part in a military maneuver in the Golan Heights, on April 1, 2024. (Michael Giladi/ Flash90)

The Knesset on Monday approved the first reading of a bill to push off the retirement of army reservists by extending a temporary measure passed last year to ensure the military has enough manpower amid the ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Opposition lawmakers panned the development, which came as the government works to pass another bill that would continue granting sweeping exemptions to mandatory military service for the ultra-Orthodox community, preventing the draft of tens of thousands of potential soldiers.

The bill passed with 51 votes in favor and 47 against. It will now go to the Knesset House Committee, which will decide which other panel will prepare it for further readings, the Knesset spokesperson’s office said in a statement.

The proposal, a Defense Ministry-backed “draft Security Service Law,” calls to extend a temporary measure raising the exemption age for reserve military service from 40 to 41 for soldiers and from 45 to 46 for officers for several additional months due to a manpower shortage amid the ongoing war in Gaza. Specialists such as doctors and air crewmen will be required to continue serving until 50, instead of 49.

The current increase in the exemption age, which was initially passed as a temporary measure by the Knesset late last year, is set to expire at the end of the month. If it clears its next two plenum readings, the bill approved on Monday will extend the measure through September.

The Knesset statement noted that under the terms of the bill, reservists who reached their retirement ages before the end of last year will only qualify for retirement in December 2024.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi in the Knesset, 24 June, 2024. (Knesset spokesperson)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of Likud presented the bill on behalf of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who is on a visit to Washington.

“Given the emergency mobilization and the significant contribution of the reservists to the fighting efforts, the release of thousands of reservists in combat roles and combat supporters may significantly harm the operational competence and combat capability of the IDF,” Karhi said.

Yair Golan, leader of the opposition Labor Party, slammed the bill for “spitting in the face of the serving public at a time that hundreds of millions are transferred as election bribes to service evaders.”

In a separate post on its official X account, Labor addressed the “hundreds of thousands of reservists who heroically went out to fight for the country,” saying, “you are being scorned.”

“With one hand you are relieving an entire sector [from army service] and with the other, you are loading the burden of service on the soldiers who are fighting,” the party said.

“We won’t let you exempt an entire sector at our expense.”

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 27, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Avigdor Liberman, head of the opposition Yisrael Beytneu party, tweeted that “Israel’s citizens deserve different leadership, leadership that will be suited to them.”

An explanatory note for the bill states that “the extension of the temporary order stems from an immediate need, the scope of the tasks and the lack of possibility to meet this operational need by other means, since the removal of those reservists during the fighting may result in damage to the competence and the continuity of the functioning of the units, especially regarding the combat units.”

Earlier in the day, the Knesset House Committee approved a measure fast-tracking the bill, allowing for plenum votes this week on all three of the readings it must clear to become law.

Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik criticized the government for requesting the fast-track motion “at the last minute, leaving two days of work for the Knesset and the committee.”

“This is an insult to the Knesset and its status and ability to work, especially after the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee did not agree to grant a one-year extension in the past,” she said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men near a sign reading ‘army recruitment office’ during a protest against the drafting of Haredim to the military, in Jerusalem, May 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If eventually passed into law, the bill would mark the second extension of the measure, which was intended as a stopgap solution to prevent a mass release from the reserves of soldiers reaching the retirement age amid ongoing combat operations in Gaza.

The latest proposed extension was initially supposed to last for six months but was reduced to three months after Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara stated that the bill was legally unacceptable unless an immediate effort is made to draft extra military power “from the entire population,” a reference to the tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students who receive blanket exemptions from military service.

The government has faced harsh public backlash over extending reservists’ service while appearing to take little action to draft the ultra-Orthodox. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is also currently debating a bill lowering the age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi yeshiva students.

That bill aims to exempt yeshiva students from service at age 21 while at the same time “very slowly” increasing the rate of ultra-Orthodox conscription.

The IDF is suffering manpower shortages caused by the hostilities with Hezbollah on the northern border and the ongoing war in Gaza, which began on October 7, when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern communities, slaughtering 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 251 hostages to Gaza.

The army called up some 287,000 reservists in the immediate wake of the October 7 onslaught, marking the largest-ever mobilization in Israel’s history.

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: