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Gallant: Will only support haredi draft if entire coalition does

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that the time has come for the government to make far-reaching decisions regarding ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the site of a terror attack in the Hebron Hills in Judea on Aug. 21, 2023. Credit: GPO.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the site of a terror attack in the Hebron Hills in Judea on Aug. 21, 2023. Credit: GPO.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday demanded that every member of the government must support a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription law if it is to win his support.

Speaking at a press conference at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Gallant said, “I call on the prime minister to lead a joint process with all coalition factions to reach the necessary agreements on the subject of the conscription law.”

He added, “Any conscription law that is agreed upon by all the parties of the emergency government will be acceptable to me. But without the consent of all parts of the coalition, the security establishment under my authority will not submit the bill [for government approval].”

Gallant’s ultimatum came in the wake of High Court hearings on Monday regarding petitions calling on the court to compel the government to recruit haredi men into the Israel Defense Forces.

In 2017, the High Court invalidated a 2014 conscription law, which provided broad exemptions to ultra-Orthodox students in yeshiva, arguing it created inequality.

However, over the years the court has granted over a dozen extensions to the government to give it time to resolve the highly contentious issue.

With the final extension expiring last June, the government approved a decision authorizing Gallant as defense minister to order the IDF not to enforce the recruitment of haredi students.

Although the expiration of that government decision is fast approaching—the end of March—those opposing the government’s move petitioned the court that it should be annulled immediately as it contravenes the Defense Service Law, which demands recruitment procedures be applied equally to all eligible citizens.

At Monday’s court hearing, attorney Eliad Shraga, who heads the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of three petitioners, said:

“For 25 years now, the recruitment issue has been rolling between the Knesset and the courts without a decision. The court has become a problem instead of a solution. It gives the government an extension time after time instead of deciding on the issue of equality of burden once and for all.

“The law is clear and applies to all citizens. It is clear that in another 30-45 days nothing will change. The army is crying out for manpower,” Shraga added.

Hours after the hearing, the court issued an interim order preventing any reduction of the IDF service period, or any other relevant period, regarding the recruitment and service of yeshiva students. The court required the government to respond by March 24.

Haredi leadership discourages military service, seeing it as corrupting and a distraction from Torah study.

In 2021, 87% of haredi 18-year-olds didn’t enlist, while 86% of non-haredi Jewish 18-year-olds did. The disparity has caused sharp friction within Israeli society, with the majority being dissatisfied that the burden of service is not distributed equally.

The shock of Oct. 7 has exacerbated the problem, leading to widespread calls for an end to blanket exemption from IDF service for haredim. Adding to the pressure is the realization that the military requires a larger standing army to deal with multiple fronts.

“Jointly bearing the burden of service has been a national challenge for 75 years. This challenge has arrived at our door in times of war—we have not known the like for 75 years, and therefore we are required to make agreements and decisions that we have not yet made in 75 years,” said Gallant on Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Adina Avni of the IDF Personnel Directorate, the army’s manpower branch, told the Knesset’s State Control committee on Feb. 21 that only 540 haredi men enlisted since Oct. 7, with an additional 600 over the age of 26 deciding to join.

The number of young haredi men studying in yeshivot and eligible for IDF service is estimated between 63,000 to 66,000.

Udi Dror, head of the recruitment division at the Ministry of Defense, told the committee that the data show there have been no changes in the number of ultra-Orthodox recruits.

“The Ministry of Defense makes great efforts and opens platforms to allow the ultra-Orthodox to enlist, but in the end, we are more or less at the same number of recruits, no matter how hard we try,” he said.

Political fallout

Gallant’s move sparked anger among coalition members, who argued that conducting the negotiations in public was a mistake and said that the defense minister had essentially handed veto power over any proposed legislation to National Unity Party head Benny Gantz, currently serving in the emergency government and on the War Cabinet.

“We don’t understand, where do you want to go like this? Elections? Why conduct it in public like this,” representatives from United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox Party, told Gallant after his statement, Walla reported.

“This is a hot potato that can drag us to the elections within a month,” party sources told the news site. “We need to get together in a room and resolve it. When you manage it in public, it’s mainly a political move, and it’s a shame that Gallant is doing it on the backs of the ultra-Orthodox. We [the coalition without the National Unity Party] have 64 mandates. Why do we even need to talk to Gantz and give him the right to veto?”

Gantz, for his part, signaled his readiness to work toward an agreement, tweeting after Gallant’s announcement: “All parts of Israeli society should take part in the right to serve. This need is a security, national and social need.

“We will work together with Defense Minister Gallant, with all factions of the House and all parts of Israeli society to promote an Israeli service outline with broad agreement and as soon as possible.”

Gallant had already laid out his position in private with coalition members. Netanyahu was reportedly outraged, as it put pressure on his government.

According to Channel 12, Gallant was in part motivated to prevent the haredi parties from formulating a conscription bill on their own.

The position of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, which she submitted to the court on Feb. 21, is that if no timetable is put forward for legislation that must be passed by June 30, the army will be required to recruit yeshivah students starting in April.

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