newsIsrael at War

Netanyahu adjusts haredi draft law after AG protests

The outline would have raised the age at which ultra-Orthodox men are exempt from military service from 26 to 35.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a vote on the state budget at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a vote on the state budget at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Netanyahu government decided on Monday to remove an element of its outline for a Haredi conscription law due to an objection by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who argued that it would interfere with their basic right to pursue employment.

The outline, slated to come up for a Knesset vote on Tuesday, would have raised the age at which haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men are exempt from military service from 26 to 35.

Haredim receive annual exemptions from military service so long as they are studying in a yeshivah or kollel.

In a March 24 letter to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs, Baharav-Miara argued that “postponement of the exemption age raises considerable constitutional difficulties, including from the view of equality and freedom of occupation.”

She cited Israel’s Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, adopted in 1994, which states: “Every citizen or inhabitant of the State is entitled to engage in any occupation, profession or trade.”

The Finance Ministry also expressed its opposition to raising the exemption age, citing its potential impact on the economy. Yogev Gradus, director-general of the ministry’s budget department, wrote to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday:

“Setting an exemption age, and in particular a high exemption age of 35 years as considered in the current proposal, is expected to lead to significant negative effects, and to create long-term damage to the Israeli economy.”

In her letter, the attorney-general expressed a general dissatisfaction with the outline, writing, “On a qualitative level, the decision lacks a description of key components of the future bill, which are essential for the constitutional analysis of the proposal.”

Even in the absence of these details, she continued, the outline “presents principles for an arrangement that are essentially similar to previous arrangements that were rejected,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kan News reported on Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had messaged Likud ministers that opposition or no, the outline would be brought to the government for approval on Tuesday, adding that without it there is no government.

Haredi recruitment has taken on urgency as a temporary extension of the exemption law that expired in June 2023 is set to end at the end of this month. The High Court of Justice has added pressure, issuing a temporary order in late February preventing any further deferments for yeshivah students in the absence of an exemption law and requiring the coalition to respond by the end of this week.

According to reports, Netanyahu hopes that introducing an outline of a bill will be enough to satisfy the court’s demands for the time being and buy his coalition breathing space.

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