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Israel’s government to ask High Court for conscription law extension

The five-month delay would allow more time to debate the issue of haredi military service.

Men arrive at the IDF's Tel Hashomer induction center to join the Netzah Yehuda infantry battalion, July 30, 2015. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Men arrive at the IDF's Tel Hashomer induction center to join the Netzah Yehuda infantry battalion, July 30, 2015. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Israel’s government is expected to ask the High Court of Justice for a five-month extension of the court-mandated deadline for passing a new conscription law to allow more time to debate changes to how haredi men are drafted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will ask for a delay from July 31 until December to hammer out a new version of the bill, according to reports on Monday.

While the two haredi parties in the coalition had previously insisted that the conscription bill be enacted into law before the state budget is passed (the deadline for that is May 29), it is now believed that Shas and one out of the two factions in the United Torah Judaism political alliance have given up on this demand.

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.

While Israelis are generally drafted into the military aged 18, most haredi men continue to receive exemptions from service until they reach the current 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.

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 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.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi last month weighed in on the debate, saying that 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.

“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.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, speaking at a Yesh Atid Party faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, said, “This is an open wound. It cannot be that our children serve the state, endanger their lives, and you say, ‘This doesn’t interest us, we have political power and we will use it to release our children [from military service] and at the same time raise stipends [for yeshiva students],’ ” Lapid said.

Lapid mentioned a bill already proposed by Yesh Atid that would move towards universal enlistment.

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