newsIsrael at War

Gantz threatens to bolt government if Haredi draft law passes

The passing of such a law would constitute a "red line" even during peacetime, said Gantz, a key member of Israel's War Cabinet.

Minister-without-Portfolio in Israel's War Cabinet Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 27, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Minister-without-Portfolio in Israel's War Cabinet Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 27, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz announced on Monday that his National Unity Party will leave the government if it passes a haredi conscription law as outlined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The people will not tolerate it, the Knesset will not be able to vote in favor of it, and my associates and I cannot be part of this emergency government if this law passes,” said Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet. “Passing such a law would be crossing a red line during normal times.”

“I appeal to the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties as someone who has no doubts about the importance of studying the Torah and preserving Israel’s heritage and tradition—do not try to pass an incorrect law that the entire nation cannot bear,” he said.

Netanyahu has said he will bring the proposed law to the government for approval on Tuesday.

Under a law that expired in June, conscription-age Haredi men enrolled in yeshivas can obtain repeated one-year deferrals until they reach the age of exemption from mandatory military service, effectively exempting them from military service.

Haredi leadership discourages military service, seeing it as corrupting and a distraction from Torah study. In 2021, 87% of haredi 18-year-olds did not enlist, while 86% of non-haredi Jewish 18-year-olds did. The disparity has caused sharp friction within Israeli society.

The shock of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, and the resulting war, have 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.

A temporary extension of the exemption law issued by Israel’s High Court in late February is set to expire next week. The court gave the government until the end of this week to issue a response. In the absence of any move by the government, the Israel Defense Forces will be required to enforce the draft of haredi men starting on April 1.

Bringing the draft law to a Knesset vote would buy the coalition more time.

According to Ynet, which has seen a copy of the outline, under it Haredi men would be exempt from service until age 35, up from age 26 currently.

The draft legislation sets no quotas for the number of haredi men that would be required to enlist, and the IDF wouldn’t take steps to bring Haredim into the armed services until June 16, the deadline set by the court for a new enlistment bill to come into effect.

Special military units would be set up to accommodate the religious sensitivities of Haredi men. The units wouldn’t include female soldiers and would be ready by August 2024 when new Haredi conscripts are expected.

Earlier on Sunday, before Gantz’s statement, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who left for the United States on Sunday, also said he would oppose the coalition bill.

In late February, Gallant said he would only support a Haredi conscription law if all members of the coalition did, too. His declaration garnered criticism from fellow coalition members, who said it essentially handed veto power to Gantz, who while a member of the emergency wartime government was otherwise opposed to Netanyahu’s leadership.

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