Netanyahu says he’ll advance Haredi enlistment bill previously endorsed by 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"

File - Minister Benny Gantz, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File - Minister Benny Gantz, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After failing to hammer out an agreement on ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the army with his Haredi coalition partners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that he will advance a bill to lower yeshiva students’ age of exemption — legislation first proposed by then-defense minister Benny Gantz in 2022.

By electing to advance a version previously adopted by Gantz, Netanyahu is apparently seeking to defuse a public warning issued by the current war cabinet minister over the weekend in which Gantz said the premier must not advance his own version of the law. Gantz said that would not boost enlistment among Haredim and would be deeply divisive, and that Netanyahu advancing such a proposal for “political purposes” would be a mistake.

“In order to bridge the differences and bring about a broad consensus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to advance the conscription law that passed its first reading in the previous Knesset” and bring it to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation tomorrow, the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.

Netanyahu calls on all of the parties that previously supported the measure to come out in favor of it once more.

Under that plan, the age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi yeshiva students would be lowered from the current 26 to 21. Many yeshiva students are thought to remain in religious study programs longer than they normally would in order to dodge the draft by claiming academic deferments until they reach the age of exemption. By lowering the exemption age, the government hopes to spur those Haredi men to leave the yeshiva and enter the workforce at a younger age.

It is unsure if Gantz will support the measure at this time, as he has previously insisted that it be accompanied by a plan to extend the requirement of national service to both ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis. Additionally, media reports are increasingly saying Gantz is looking for a pretext to leave the emergency government he joined days after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

During a press conference in February, Gantz and fellow National Unity minister Gadi Eisenkot presented an outline for the enlistment of Arabs and Haredi Jews into the army calling for an “absolute majority of young people” to serve their country.

While Gantz did not propose specific quotas of Haredi recruits, he indicated that the number should increase gradually year-over-year, and said that while most Haredim would be drafted under the plan, there would still remain an “elite who will continue to study, and many will serve at the same time as studying.”

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