Protest group: 'A knife in the back of those who serve'

Knesset to vote this week on bill extending retirement age for IDF reservists

Ministers advance bill after cabinet secretary raises it in surprise move; critics pan government for working to extend service of reservists while exempting Haredi yeshiva students

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Israeli combat reservists and tank forces take part in training drills on the Lebanese front in the Golan Heights, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israeli combat reservists and tank forces take part in training drills on the Lebanese front in the Golan Heights, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The Knesset is expected to approve a bill delaying retirement for IDF reservists this week, extending a temporary measure passed last December by another three months after ministers approved the bill Sunday.

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.

Although the bill was not on Sunday’s schedule, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs raised it at the end of the cabinet meeting for approval.

It was passed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last Sunday and on Monday it is slated to be debated by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in preparation for the first of three meetings it must pass to become law.

If eventually approved by the Knesset, the draft 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 those soldiers reaching the exemption age amid ongoing combat operations in Gaza.

The latest proposed extension was initially supposed to last for six months but has been 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.

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)

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.

In a post on X on Sunday, Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman protested that “the government is exempting tens of thousands of eligible young men from regular service with one hand while extending the service of reservists with the other.”

Labor party MK Efrat Rayten also responded, writing that the measure “again proved how unworthy the government is,” adding the government was adding an extra burden to reservists without drafting “other members of the public.”

The pro-democracy Hofshi B’Artzenu protest group said the government was acting “without shame and a public mandate.”

“On one hand they are advancing, like thieves in the night, the bill to extend reserve duty, and on the other hand they intend to pass a draft-dodging law for the Haredi community — and everything for political survival,” the group posted on X after the bill was approved.

“It is a knife in the back of those serving. It is time to send this disconnected group home and go to elections.”

The IDF is suffering manpower shortages caused by the hostilities 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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