Lapid demands defense minister show ‘political courage’ and start drafting Haredim

Opposition leader accuses Netanyahu of ‘fraud’ over his reported initiative to establish a panel on enlistment legislation without Gallant and Gantz

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"

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid addresses his Yesh Atid party's weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, April 1, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid addresses his Yesh Atid party's weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, April 1, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid appealed to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday to jumpstart the process of enlisting in the military previously exempt members of the country’s ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community, following a High Court decision freezing state financial support for Haredi yeshivas whose students don’t serve.

In a letter, Lapid urged the Likud politician “to urgently begin an orderly process for recruiting the ultra-Orthodox to the IDF,” adding that while he understood that this was not something that could happen overnight, it “needs to begin because otherwise it will never happen.”

“It is very important to take practical steps proving that government bodies are complying with the law,” he insisted. “During these days of war, it is more important than ever that the public know that the government is not trying to circumvent the law or deceive the court or the citizens of the country.”

For decades, Haredi men of military age have been able to avoid the draft by enrolling for study in yeshivas and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the national age of military exemption, currently 26.

Lapid’s appeal comes on the heels of an interim order by the High Court of Justice — which went into effect on Monday — barring the government from funding the monthly stipends of at least some ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

The court ruled that after a government resolution from last year delaying the enlistment of yeshiva students expired on March 31, the government would be barred from providing funding to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that enroll students eligible for IDF enlistment — as the legal framework for deferring their military service will no longer exist.

Brothers in Arms protesters scuffle with police and ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, calling for equal conscription laws to be implemented, March 31, 2024 (Flash 90)

According to the State Attorney’s Office, there are some 63,000 enrolled yeshiva students who are legally subject to the draft as of Monday.

Lapid’s letter appeared to echo one sent by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to the legal advisers of the defense and education ministries on Sunday, stating that as of Monday “there will be no source of authority for a blanket exemption from military conscription for yeshiva students, and the defense establishment must act to draft them into military service in accordance with the law.”

Lapid also slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a report that he had called for the formation of a joint ministerial-National Security Council panel to come up with enlistment legislation that could potentially circumvent the court’s ruling.

According to Hebrew news site Walla, it was unclear if either Gallant or war cabinet minister Benny Gantz would be invited to sit on the committee.

Both Gallant and Gantz have expressed opposition to previous enlistment legislation proposed by Netanyahu, which critics panned as insufficient to create enlistment parity.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attends a press conference in Jerusalem on December 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“You, the Defense Ministry, the limited cabinet and the expanded cabinet were not informed about the formation of the conscription law team and you heard about it in the media,” Lapid wrote to Gallant, dismissing the proposed panel as “political fraud empty of content.”

Stating that Gallant needed to show “political courage” to match that of Israel’s troops in the field, Lapid demanded that he “bring about the change that will heal the bleeding wound of Israeli society.”

Lapid continued in the same vein during his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset Monday, appealing to Netanyahu to “uphold the law” in the wake of the court’s ruling.

“I call on the government not to cheat, not to deceive, not to find bypass routes, not to transfer hidden budgets, not to do all the things we know they will try to do,” he told reporters. “For a change, they will be forced to act as if they are a law-abiding government in a law-abiding country.”

Last month, Netanyahu reportedly informed the ultra-Orthodox parties that he would “compensate them retroactively” if the court cut off their funding.

“The only thing that creates a rift in the people is that some people enlist and some don’t. Some die, and some don’t. Some are injured, and some are not. There are those who work for a living and pay taxes, and there are those who want us to pay them to avoid the army and not work,” Lapid said Monday.

“Israel has reached its tipping point. The IDF repeatedly says, ‘We don’t have enough soldiers.’ The defense minister said it, the IDF chief of staff said it. There aren’t enough soldiers and the ultra-Orthodox youth need to mobilize to defend the country.”

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