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Israeli government moves to tackle haredi draft conundrum

A new proposal seeks to address near-blanket military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, Jan. 29, 2023. Photo by Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Defense Ministry.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, Jan. 29, 2023. Photo by Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Defense Ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting on Sunday to address a longstanding issue pertaining to drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces.

Legislation being drafted would lower the age at which ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, Jewish men need to receive deferments from serving in the military, and significantly increase the pay of combat soldiers. The initiative would also reduce the length of time soldiers in positions deemed less essential need to serve.

The meeting on Sunday was attended by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, among others.

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 earlier.

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.

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.

For decades, ultra-Orthodox Israelis 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.

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