Ministers approve sanctions against draft dodgers

Following mini-crisis, Peri Committee votes in favor of pressing criminal charges against ultra-Orthodox army evaders

Ya'akov Peri (center) and members of the Peri commission (photo credit: Ohad Zweigenberg/POOL/Flash90)
Ya'akov Peri (center) and members of the Peri commission (photo credit: Ohad Zweigenberg/POOL/Flash90)

The ministerial committee tasked with drafting a new military conscription law approved on Wednesday the use of criminal sanctions against draft dodgers, ahead of sending the bill to the Knesset to complete the legislation.

The decision came two days after a disagreement within the panel briefly threatened to fell the government coalition. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) backed down and voted for the clause, as did three other ministers. Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) was the sole objector to the decision, while Environmental Protection Minister (Amir Peretz) abstained.

The draft proposal states that 18-year-old yeshiva students engaged in full-time Torah study would be allowed to defer service until age 21, at which point they would have to choose either to enlist in the IDF or register for national or civil service.

However, 1,800 top Torah scholars per year will be entirely exempted from service, far below the estimated 7,000-8,000 ultra-Orthodox 18-year-olds who do not currently register each year.

According to Wednesday’s decision, if the ultra-Orthodox community fails to reach the numbers set forth in the law, the vast majority of yeshiva students — excluding the 1,800 exempt– will be treated as draft dodgers and face criminal sanctions.

The previous meeting of the committee fell apart early Monday as the sides failed to come together on how to prosecute draft-dodgers from the ultra-Orthodox community, which has traditionally enjoyed wide-ranging exemptions from military service.

Ya’alon refused to agree to automatic criminal penalties for those who fail to report to the draft, a clause which panel head Minister Yaakov Peri and his Yesh Atid party had considered central to the bill.

Yesh Atid, the second-largest faction in the Knesset, threatened to pull out of the coalition, which would have effectively collapsed the government.

“There will be an equal burden, or this government will fall to pieces,” party head Yair Lapid said during a Yesh Atid meeting at the Knesset on Monday. “Every effort to appease the ultra-Orthodox will destroy the coalition.”

However on Monday evening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Ya’alon to drop his opposition, ending the coalition crisis and paving the way for Wednesday’s meeting.

“If need be, we’ll discuss that clause further on down the road,” Netanyahu said. “It wouldn’t be right to hinder the bill now.”

The committee had already approved several other points from the draft proposal.

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