Gantz, Eisenkot present new outline to expand draft to ultra-Orthodox, Arabs

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"

War cabinet Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a National Unity faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)
War cabinet Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a National Unity faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

Declaring that “all segments of society” must serve their country, National Unity Ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot present an outline for the draft of Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israeli army.

Addressing reporters in the Knesset, the two former IDF chiefs of staff argue that it is impossible to extend the terms of current IDF service members without at the same time ensuring that members of currently exempt population groups also contribute to the collective defense.

Gantz is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet while Eisenkot is an observer.

Eisenkot calls the proposed plan “a good basis” for future action based on “clear and evolving recruitment targets.”

“All the people of Israel, all parts of society should take part in the right to serve our country,” Gantz declares.

Gantz’s outline is composed of several principles, the first of which is that an “absolute majority of young people” must serve their country. He calls for the establishment of a “unified recruitment directorate” which will determine where draftees will serve and who merits an exemption, and proposes “dozens” of service tracks, including working for “recognized security, emergency and charity organizations.”

According to the proposed outline, these tracks will be “adapted to the cultural needs” of Israel’s diverse populations and offer “progressive compensation with an emphasis on the front lines.”

While Gantz did not propose a specific number of Haredi recruits, he indicated that the number would increase gradually year-over-year and promised that there would still remain an “elite who will continue to study and many will serve at the same time as studying.”

The plan, as presented, is similar to one proposed by Gantz in 2021 while he was serving as defense minister.

According to that plan, ultimately all Israelis would be required to perform some form of national service after high school. Each year, 5,000 more people would be required to perform national service, until after six to eight years every eligible person will be conscripted.

They say their goal is for the majority of young people to be serving within a decade.

The issue of Haredi exemptions from the mandatory draft has received renewed attention in recent weeks after the IDF and government earlier this month proposed changes to the security service and reserve service laws, which would see the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve increased significantly amid manpower shortages caused by the war in Gaza and hostilities on the northern border.

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