Edelstein at Haredi draft debate: IDF’s needs are top concern, Haredi factions aren’t the majority here

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"

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein attends a debate on the government-backed Haredi draft legislation, June 24, 2024. (Noam Moshkovitz/Knesset spokesperson)
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein attends a debate on the government-backed Haredi draft legislation, June 24, 2024. (Noam Moshkovitz/Knesset spokesperson)

Members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee debate government-backed legislation lowering ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students’ age of exemption from military service.

Addressing the committee, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs says that Haredim believe that those learning full-time in yeshiva are comparable to the IDF’s Sayeret Matkal special forces unit, though he noted that “you don’t have to agree.”

Enlisting the ultra-Orthodox into the army will take time, he continues, arguing that “if we want to effectively advance our goals, we need to start with those who the army knows” aren’t really engaged in full-time yeshiva studies.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, whose lawmakers are not taking part in the debate, has argued that drafting full-time yeshiva students is a red line.

Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon tells the committee that the proposed enlistment legislation lacks a factual basis, is “disconnected” from the needs of the army and “does not provide an answer to the growing damage to equality” caused by ultra-Orthodox exemptions.

If eventually approved, the bill would lower the current age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi yeshiva students from 26 to 21 and “very slowly” increase the rate of ultra-Orthodox conscription.

Pushing back against critics both within the government and in the opposition, committee chairman Yuli Edelstein (Likud) says that if lawmakers truly support the IDF and its needs, he “would like to hear members of the committee from all factions supporting this proposal.”

Edelstein has previously argued that despite widespread criticism of the legislation, it provides an opportunity to solve one of the longest-running controversies in Israeli politics.

Responding to opposition MKs who say that the discussion is not serious because of the absence of ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, Edelstein says he is “not going to run after anyone.”

“The last time I checked, the Haredi factions are not the majority in the Knesset,” he adds.

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