Government needs more time to pass ultra-Orthodox draft bill

The Israeli government will not make the December 2 deadline to pass a new haredi draft bill.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The government announced Monday that it will not make the Dec. 2 deadline to pass a new haredi draft bill and is therefore returning to the High Court of Justice to request an extension of the old law, which the justices had struck down.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been counting on support from Yisrael Beitenu, which recently left the coalition, as well as the opposition’s Yesh Atid party, to pass a law setting new IDF enlistment requirements for young ultra-Orthodox men.

A faction of Agudat Yisrael had threatened to leave the coalition if the new law is passed. Now that there are only 61 members – a narrow majority of 120 Knesset members – such a move would topple the government.

United Torah Judaism and Shas offered to abstain. They see the new bill as the lesser of evils but do not want to go to new elections yet. These haredi party leaders could not be seen by their public as actively supporting legislation demanding that even a minimum number of their youth leave the Torah study halls for army service.

The request for “breathing room” is being made based on the argument that there is now a new defense minister – Netanyahu – and it is therefore legitimate to ask for an extension in order for him to review the wording of the new law, according to Israel Hayom.

If the law is not passed, the almost-blanket deferrals that full-time yeshiva students receive would cease, and thousands would receive call-up notices. The government knows that this would cause upheaval in the streets, as has happened in the past. Several times recently, the small, extremist Jerusalem Faction succeeded in their call for mass demonstrations after young haredi men refused to even ask for the automatic draft deferral, which led to their arrest.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have two main objections to the proposed law: the increasing financial sanctions to be placed on Torah institutions if a prescribed number of their students do not enter the army each year, and the fact that if enlistment targets are not met for three consecutive years, the law will be scrapped. In that case, all haredi men of the appropriate age, instead of a gradually growing number, would be drafted at once.

However, the financial penalties go into effect only in the third year that enlistment targets are not met. Secular opponents of the law fear that would give the ultra-Orthodox parties enough time to change the parameters significantly.

Read  Right-wing Israeli minister calls to end the draft