Ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers face jail from 2017
Ministerial panel says financial sanctions not enough; aims to limit exemptions on religious grounds to 1,800 per year
Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel
Ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers will be treated as criminals and may be subjected to imprisonment and not only fines as previously planned, the government committee tasked with resolving the issue of Haredi military service decided Wednesday.
The idea was adopted by the ministers after Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet security service chief and the head of the committee, made it clear that financial sanctions were an insufficient deterrent. The idea, they said, would be implemented gradually.
The panel’s recommendations will have to be approved by the Knesset.
The dearth of ultra-Orthodox troops in the military has long been a thorn in secular-religious relations in Israel.
“Truthfully, financial sanctions will make a fool of the committee because you can’t collect that money from the poor,” Peri said, adding that sanctions that are not enforceable are pointless. “We’ll replace [the fines] with criminal sanctions.”
According to the plan drawn up by the committee, by 2016 law enforcement forces will start treating ultra-Orthodox men who shirk service like all other draft dodgers in Israel — including with the application of criminal charges. Until that time, financial sanctions would be wielded against the Torah institutions where draft dodgers study, but not against individuals.
Starting 2017 only 1,800 people will be exempted annually from military service on religious grounds, the panel decided, allowing only the most talented students and future rabbis to continue to study without serving. Those who don’t make the quota and still refuse to join the army would stand trial and go to prison, according to Wednesday’s decision.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tal Law, which had granted sweeping exemptions from military or national service to ultra-Orthodox Israelis, was unconstitutional.
Following the ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Knesset would draft a revised, more equitable law.