Panel at loggerheads over penalties on draft dodgers

Late-night meeting ends after ministers Yaakov Peri and Moshe Ya’alon unable to come to terms on sanctions for ultra-Orthodox who refuse to serve

Yaakov Peri visiting religious soldiers in April. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Yaakov Peri visiting religious soldiers in April. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A committee meeting tasked with passing new rules for drafting youth into the army — particularly ultra-Orthodox — ended in argument early Monday morning as sides failed to agree on punishment terms for draft dodgers.

The termination of the Peri Committee meeting followed several hours in which the panel found broad consensus and approved several points from a recent draft proposal.

The main bone of contention arose between Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, who heads the eponymous group drafting the new rules, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The two agreed to meet in an attempt to hash out their differences later on Monday.

Ya’alon said before the vote that he would oppose any measure that automatically criminalized ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. However, Peri and his Yesh Atid faction consider sanctions a central part of the plan, which is intended to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into military or national service.

In the draft proposal, individuals who do not register for the draft would be subject to criminal prosecution, as would yeshiva heads whose institutions do not comply with the new law. The bill also mandates incentives and penalties for yeshivas according to their compliance with the registration rules.

After the meeting Yesh Atid, which is a senior partner in the government, said the fight over penalties could endanger the governing coalition’s continued existence, according to Ynet.

However, sources close to Ya’alon told the outlet that Yesh Atid had agreed in coalition talks that automatic sanctions would not be on the table. Before the vote, Ya’alon was joined in opposition with Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel.

During the meeting, which lasted past 1 a.m. Monday, the panel agreed on most of the draft proposal’s measures, including allowing top Torah scholars to be exempted from service and not extending the new rules to Arab youths along with the ultra-Orthodox.

The panel also agreed to lengthen service for those in the religious hesder serve/study program by a month, and not by eight months, as was originally proposed.

Hesder students currently spend 16 months in service and several more years in yeshiva study.

The proposal mainly deals with how to draft the ultra-Orthodox, after the High Court last year ruled that the Tal Law, which gave ultra-orthodox yeshiva students nearly full exemptions, was unconstitutional.

According to the draft proposal, 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. Those who defer their service would have to be registered at yeshivas whose student bodies are subject to regular government auditing. Yeshivas that receive state funding and register their students for service deferment would also be required to introduce vocational training into their curriculum.

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

The proposed legislation also features changes to the general conscription framework, including a shortening of service for males from 36 to 32 months, and an extension of service for females to 28 months, up from 24.

Most of the changes would roll out in 2016, including the criminal prosecution of individuals who do not register for the draft, allowing for a transitional period in which to build up the bureaucratic and physical infrastructure needed to implement the changes.

The bill sets gradual, increasing recruitment goals for the ultra-Orthodox, beginning this year with the goal of 2,000 registrations for the IDF and another 1,300 for national and civil service. It also sets a 6,000-per-year recruitment goal for Israeli Arabs into national service.

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