newsIsrael News

Knesset votes for conscription bill on first reading

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who voted against the bill, said that "We must not do petty politics on the backs of the great IDF fighters."

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the military draft in Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the military draft in Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Knesset voted 63 to 57 overnight in favor of a bill, in its first reading, that would codify the role of the ultra-Orthodox in the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was the only coalition member to vote against the bill, having said earlier that the “IDF needs more fighters,” which the bill does not provide, according to Ynet.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday morning in Israel, Gallant wrote in Hebrew that “the people of Israel long for agreements—national changes are carried out with broad agreement. We must not do petty politics on the backs of the great IDF fighters.”

Tzahi Braverman, chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was overheard saying of Gallant after the vote, “chutzpah. He should be fired.”

The defense minister had said in February that any proposal for ultra-Orthodox conscription must have consensus for him to support it.

Shortly before 1 a.m., Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman wrote in Hebrew that the Israeli government acted in the “dead of night” while the nation’s best sons and daughters are fighting on the battlefield.

“Israeli citizens deserve new and more worthy leaders,” he said. Liberman also questioned where it is written that Jews can’t be fighters and said that real Zionists don’t support “evasion.”

Speaking at a press conference at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv, Gallant had 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 that “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.”

Netanyahu proposed the bill that came up for a vote on Monday in May, and is identical to a bill developed by then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz under the previous government.

At the time, Netanyahu’s office said the bill sought “to bridge the differences and bring about a broad consensus,” as Gantz’s bill had already passed its first Knesset reading.

“The bill was prepared by the defense establishment … and submitted by then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The prime minister calls on all factions that supported the proposal in the previous Knesset to join the proposal.”

The move was reportedly meant to prevent opposition to the bill by Gantz, who at the time was a member of the temporary unity government set up in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre.

However, Gantz came out against his own bill, stating that the prevailing conditions in the country had changed dramatically since he initially tabled it.

“The State of Israel needs soldiers and not political exercises that tear the people apart in times of war,” he said, following the release of Netanyahu’s bill.

“The temporary mediation law that was submitted and which the prime minister wishes to pass now was not satisfactory then, and is not relevant today in the reality after Oct. 7,” he said

On Sunday evening, the former defense minister announced his departure from the unity  government.

Speaking at a press conference in Ramat Gan, Gantz said, “It was an easy decision to enter the government, but the decision to leave was very difficult.”

“Unfortunately, Netanyahu is stopping us from reaching a true victory,” he continued. “Therefore, we are now leaving, today, the unity government. With a heavy heart, but wholeheartedly.”

The conscription bill was also shot down by the haredi parties in the previous Knesset. When it passed its first reading under the previous government, United Torah Judaism Knesset member Moshe Gafni, who is a member of the current coalition, called it “a despicable and disgraceful proposal.” 

Shas chairman and Netanyahu confidante Aryeh Deri at the time called it an “offensive law whose sole purpose is to harm the members of the yeshivah and to exclude the youth from their studies.”

Deri, however, is reportedly behind the effort to push the bill now.

The haredi parties are now set to let the bill pass in first reading, but will demand changes to the draft legislation ahead of the second and third readings, according to Hebrew media reports.

The bill in its current form would lower the age of exemption from mandatory service for haredi yeshivah students from 26 to 21, in an effort to get more haredi men to enter the labor force.

It would also gradually increase haredi enlistment, setting a conscription target of 35% of male haredi students by 2036.

If the targets are not met, non-compliant yeshivahs will face large fines.

Gallant is not the only one in Netanyahu’s coalition with problems regarding the bill. Lawmakers such as Nir Barkat, Ohad Tal, Dan Illouz, Yuli Edelstein, and others have called for the bill to include provisions to boost enlistment. 

Edelstein’s disapproval is notable as he heads the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, the committee the bill will head to if passed on Monday, where it will be debated, amended and prepared for future readings. He has said it does not align with the needs of the IDF.

Protesters against the bill have been active as well in the lead up to the vote. On Monday morning, members of the Recruiting for Unity group of parents of fallen soldiers and current reservists left funeral wreaths at the homes and cars of coalition members, expressing their fears that passing the law will lead to more deaths.

“The IDF lacks 7,000 soldiers, and supporting the law endangers the lives of Israeli citizens,” the group said.

While the vote is happening, Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, is hearing a case in which the petitioners argue that the state must start recruiting ultra-Orthodox yeshivah students because the law exempting them from mandatory service expired last year.

The government representative has requested that the court reject the petitions and instead allow the Knesset to continue the legislative process toward a solution.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates