There is “no substitute” for the Jewish state’s “people’s army” model, whereby all citizens are meant to serve in some capacity, including most being conscripted into the military, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said on Thursday.
He spoke amid a national debate over a proposed amendment to the draft law.
“The people’s army model has proved beyond any doubt, for 75 years, that there is no substitute for it. This is the secret of the IDF’s strength, this is the secret of the nation’s strength,” Halevi said.
“Today, we are marching together, serving in the standing army and in the reserves, in all parts of the IDF and in the whole spectrum of roles—representing all ranges of opinions and beliefs—to emphasize that, united, our strength is greatest,” he added.
The comments come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting on Sunday to address long-standing issues pertaining to drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men into the IDF.
Legislation being drafted would lower the age at which ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, Jewish men need to receive deferments from serving in the military. While Israelis are generally drafted into the military aged 18, most haredi men continue to receive exemptions from service until they reach the age limit of 26. To do so they remain in yeshivas until then. By lowering the age limit to 23, the government hopes to encourage haredim to enter the workforce.
The issue of haredi military exemptions has long been a point of contention in Israel, with opponents of the practice arguing that it places a heavy and unfair burden on the rest of the population and discourages members of the ultra-Orthodox community from working.
The IDF this week indicated opposition to the plan being considered by the government, stating that universal conscription from all segments of society remains a national security interest.
Two haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, and they have demanded that draft-related legislation be passed next month, before the state budget is approved.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly supports setting the age of exemption at 23, but on condition that a companion bill is passed to provide improved pay and benefits to soldiers and veterans.
For decades, ultra-Orthodox Israeli men have received near-blanket exemptions from national service, but in 2012 the Supreme Court struck down the law permitting the arrangement. A new law thereafter was also overturned by the court in 2017.
Since then, defense ministers have received more than a dozen extensions from the court, as the government failed to pass legislation.
The current extension expires on July 31.