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The next crisis? Coalition faces uphill battle in bid to extend Haredi draft law

After failure to extend ban on Palestinian family reunification, and with Ra’am party rejecting another IDF-related law, legislation regulating exemptions in danger of expiring

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during the swearing-in ceremony for new President Isaac Herzog on July 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during the swearing-in ceremony for new President Isaac Herzog on July 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government is reportedly concerned it won’t muster a Knesset majority to renew a law set to expire next month that regulates exemptions from army service for many members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

The issue could shape up to be the new coalition’s next major crisis, since one member, the Islamist Ra’am party, along with the opposition Joint List party are refusing to back laws related to the Israel Defense Forces, and right-wing opposition parties have refused to vote in favor of any coalition legislation even if they ideologically support it — such as an extension to a ban on Palestinians with Israeli spouses getting Israeli citizenship — in an effort to cast the government as impotent.

If the Haredi draft law isn’t extended by next month, it will expire and every member of the ultra-Orthodox community of relevant age will have to be recruited to the military — a situation that could spark a major revolt since army recruitment is anathema to many Haredi leaders.

A preview of the battle to come was seen this week, when Defense Minister Benny Gantz tried and failed to pass an extension of a temporary order designed to prevent secular women from evading recruitment by falsely telling the army they are religious.

Orthodox women generally don’t join the IDF, and many religious Zionist women opt to instead carry out voluntary national service. According to data presented this week by an army official at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, some 35 percent of potential female recruits receive an exemption for that reason, for which they must declare they are religious.

The temporary law, which has been repeatedly extended since 2012, set up a committee that examines whether a woman who has asked for an exemption is truly religious. In 2020, 18,900 requests were filed and the committee rejected 219 of them.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men block a road during a protest against the arrest of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women who failed to comply with a recruitment order, in Jerusalem, June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

While the extension was approved in the committee, Gantz was forced to pull a motion on the matter on Tuesday evening from the Knesset plenum after Ra’am said it would vote against it and opposition parties showed no willingness to back it.

Gantz then slammed the right-wing opposition parties — Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, Religious Zionism, and the ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas — saying they “are harming security and encouraging draft evasion.”

He said he intended to convene professionals to deal with the matter.

But the far more serious looming threat is the law regulating army exemptions for almost all ultra-Orthodox seminary students, which has been extended repeatedly for more than a decade as the High Court of Justice demanded changes to allow for the recruitment of more people.

Anticipating the challenge, coalition officials are already trying to convince the opposition to cooperate and prevent the law from expiring, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.

However, the coalition is concerned, in light of the opposition’s blanket refusal this week to support the renewal of the Palestinian family reunification law, that the Netanyahu bloc could prefer the chaos that would be caused by preventing the extension of the draft bill, in hopes it will expedite the fall of the government.

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