Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein approved a proposed law on Tuesday to integrate haredim into the IDF and national service.

During the final meeting of the Peri Committee, which drafted the bill, Weinstein said the legislation was legal and that the legislative process could move forward.

But the decision to authorize the bill elicited harsh criticism once again from independent observers, with the Hiddush religious-freedom lobby group deriding the legislation as “a missed opportunity of historic proportions.”

The bill will now go to the cabinet for approval on Sunday and will then be put to a vote immediately in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Once approved, the bill will go to the Knesset to complete the legislative process.

The Peri Committee convened on Tuesday for a final session to consider recommendations and possible amendments that government departments had made to the bill during the last three weeks, as well as to receive the attorney-general’s feedback.

In prior statements, Weinstein had appeared unsure of the legality of the bill, implying that while the proposed law was designed to “equalize the burden” of military service for all citizens, it might, at the same time, be anchoring new inequalities in law.

Speaking at the committee hearing, however, he said that he was “impressed by the committee’s endeavors in representing the values of equal service.”

While he noted that the “equality” the bill advanced was not “complete or perfect,” he said it “could be defended in front of the High Court of Justice.”

One of the main issues on which he focused was the clause within the bill that would allow haredim to defer their military service for a few years, as most Israelis do not have such a right.

Weinstein said this was a problem, but that ultimately it was legal because the purpose was to create greater equality in military service and because the special rights were for a very limited and defined class of persons due to the group’s particular characteristics and needs.

Under the provisions of the bill, mandatory haredi enlistment would not be fully implemented until 2017, at which time all haredi men would be obligated to enlist, with a possible deferral until age 21. Refusal to serve could result in imprisonment.

Haredi men’s ability to defer service until this age is critical, since the rabbinic leadership of the ultra-Orthodox community views the late teens and early 20s as a critical period in which a man’s haredi identification is secured.

A later age of enlistment is problematic, however, since many haredi men are already married with children by age 21 or 22 , which increases the cost to the IDF, in terms of salary and welfare stipends, of drafting such soldiers.

Following the announcement of Weinstein’s approval, Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev panned the bill, saying, “It’s hard to decide which aspect of the document is the worst: the decision to delay mandatory service by four years until the term of a new government; the baseless expectation that it will be possible to enforce enlistment through imprisonment; or the willingness to allow yeshiva students to enlist only at the age of 21, when most of them are already married with children.”

The Forum for Equality in the Burden of National Service called the bill “a farce” and expressed hope that the High Court would strike it down.

“It’s amazing to see elected officials in cooperation with senior public servants do everything in order to avoid any chance of drafting haredim and achieving equality in the burden of national service,” the organization said in a statement to the press.

Along with the issue of haredi enlistment, Weinstein also addressed the hesder program, in which national-religious youth combine 16 months of IDF service with three years of yeshiva study. He said that although the proposed law raised the military service component of this course by just one month, he would avoid ruling on the issue at this time.

He implied that the hesder arrangement seemed to favor one particular group, nationalreligious soldiers, over the rest of the population, which is required to perform a full three years of military service. However, he said that since the implementation of the new proposed law was not supposed to be complete until 2017, it was better to avoid deciding the issue until then.

Regarding increasing women’s IDF service from 24 to 28 months, Weinstein also said he would delay a decision on the matter. He said he needed more information to decide whether he was comparing the length of women’s service to that of men’s, or to that of the special groups – hesder students and haredim.

If he were comparing women’s service to men’s, there would likely be no equality issue, since men would still serve longer than the new 28 months. But the equality problem could be more serious if women’s service were compared to the “privileged” service of hesder students and haredim, who perform shorter service or are eligible for significant delays in being drafted.

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