Netanyahu appears to backtrack on raising Haredi military exemption age to 35

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"

Ultra-Orthodox men protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be backtracking on parts of his proposed Haredi enlistment law following widespread public criticism, including from within his own coalition.

According to Hebrew-language news reports, the government has decided to remove a clause raising the exemption age for yeshiva students to 35 from the measure, which is expected to be brought to the cabinet on Tuesday.

Channel 12 says the backtrack came as a result of the warning from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara that she would be unable to defend the proposed bill, and the Finance Ministry figures showing the economy taking a hit of over NIS 100 billion ($27.5 billion) over the next decade if the army extended the time recruits must serve rather than drafting Haredi Jews into the military.

An ultra-Orthodox political source who spoke with Ynet states that a new version of the proposal containing provisions for financial sanctions — and possibly annual enlistment goals — is set to be distributed to members of the cabinet today.

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

Responding to the news of the potential reversal, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid accuses the government of engaging in “fraud,” asserting that raising the exemption age was a ruse “intended to hide the fact that the evasion law has no conscription obligation, no financial sanctions, and that not a single ultra-Orthodox person will enlist” because of it.

“This law is a disgrace and an insult to the fighters,” he tweets.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which has petitioned the High Court of Justice to enlist the ultra-Orthodox, accuses the government of engaging in “the same shticks and tricks” by floating and then reversing a change to the age of exemption.

‘Equality in the burden is an existential necessity for the State of Israel and Israeli society, and there is no way to achieve it other than the enactment of a uniform and equal recruitment law that will apply to all,” the watchdog group says in a statement.

On Sunday, National Unity leader Benny Gantz threatened to exit the coalition if the controversial legislation is approved.

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