In Win For Charedim, Draft Bill Loses in Knesset

FILE - Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators protest at the Bar Ilan intersection in Jerusalem on November 6, 2016, following the arrest of a haredi draft-dodger. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In a major blow to Naftali Bennett’s coalition, the Israeli draft bill for Charedim was voted down at its first reading on Monday, by a vote of 54-54.

If passed, the bill would force Charedim to be drafted into the IDF and lower the age of exemption for yeshiva students to 21.

That would last for two years, after which the exemption age would increase to 22 and then one year later to 23. Even after that point, Charedim could complete their service at 21, if they agree to join the workforce on a professional training track.

In addition, the bill sets targets for the number of Charedim drafted per year, which would increase incrementally.

Charedi leaders blasted the bill, saying that it would be devastating to Torah learning. UTJ MK Uri Maklev said the law “undermines the foundation of our existence.”

He added, “I believe wholeheartedly that the duty to study the Torah and its existence is what gives the people of Israel the right to exist. It is our soul of life. It is the main and exclusive pillar of support. It is the cornerstone and foundation for our moral and practical existence. The army is not a value, but a security need. The Torah is a value, and when there is Torah study, the need for an army is small.”

MK Meir Porush blasted the law as well, and said that the Arab parties have no right to vote for it. “[With] a government of Jews that enacts such a law, it is preferable that such a state not even exist. What annoys us is that the people of Ra’am are receiving budgets while we are not, and they are telling us to go to the army. Does that sound rational?”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz defended the bill as a first step in developing a broader framework for national-service..

Gantz said that draft reform is needed not just for Charedim, but for all of Israeli society.

“The current situation, in which half of 18-year-olds in Israel do not enlist, undermines basic Israeli resilience…If we can recruit Charedim for a period of service in charitable institutions, it will be a great mitzvah. If we include Arabs in strengthening informal education systems, we will also contribute to Arab society and its well-being.”

Gantz added, “The purpose of the proposal is to act, as far as possible, to promote equality in service, by increasing the number of Charedi servicemen in the military and by expanding the ranks of those serving in the national civil service…This, while recognizing the value of Torah study, and under the understanding that not all yeshiva students will serve tomorrow morning or at all.”

Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrived at the Knesset to vote against the bill, even though he had cancelled several speeches scheduled Monday.

(Ra’am) United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas, a member of the majority coalition, voted in favor of the bill.

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