Two recent decisions made by Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein regarding draft
legislation to increase haredi enlistment to the army were heavily criticized on
Sunday for intervening in both the content and legislative timeline of the
During a hearing of the Special Committee on Equality in
the Burden of Military Service, combative haredi MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah
Judaism lambasted a decision made by the attorney- general to change the draft
law, drawn up by the ministerial Peri Committee, to a temporary measure valid
only until 2020.
One of the key implications of this change would be that
after the year 2020, all Jewish men of military age would have to enlist at age
The bill, as drawn up by the Peri Committee, provides an option for
haredi yeshiva students to defer their service for three years after the age of
enlistment, till age 21, after which they must enlist in military or civilian
This provision is crucial for the haredi community since the
first years of an ultra-Orthodox man’s advanced yeshiva studies are seen as
critical for solidifying his haredi identity. Many also marry around the age of
21 or 22, further entrenching them in the community.
The haredi spiritual
and political leadership would not under any circumstances agree to send young
men straight from a high-school environment into the secular culture of the
The Justice Ministry’s representative to the committee explained to
the surprised committee members that by 2020, the provisions allowing haredi men
to postpone service till age 21 would expire and everyone would be obligated to
enlist by 18.
Gafni threatened that if this clause were to remain in the
bill, the haredi parties would cease all cooperation with the committee and the
legislative process, and advise all yeshiva students not to enlist or cooperate
with the army whatsoever.
“I will come out and tell everyone, including
those who are not studying [as required], don’t cooperate with the IDF at all,”
declared the MK angrily.
Committee chairwoman MK Ayelet Shaked was
similarly perturbed by this development, demanding to know how the essence of
the bill was changed from that proposed by the Peri recommendations.
want to know why the attorney-general decided to change the decision of the Peri
Committee and decided that everyone will be drafted at age 18,” said the MK, and
requested that he present his reasoning to the committee.
The change was
made due to legal difficulties in creating different laws on the basis of
religious identification, so that non-haredi Jewish Israelis would have to
enlist at age 18, whereas haredi Israelis could enlist only at age
The Attorney-General’s Office is concerned that the new law be able
to withstand an appeal to the High Court of Justice on the basis that it
discriminates against non-haredim and is unequal.
In addition to the
controversy over the conversion of the bill into a temporary measure, the
attorney-general wrote a letter last week to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon telling them that the legislation must be
passed by August 20.
“This letter was especially outrageous,” said
Shaked. “From this letter you might think that there is in Israel a government
and a court, but that the Knesset doesn’t exist, or that it is not
relevant…. This letter is extremely serious and damages the separation of
powers of a democratic state.”
The hearing, which lasted three hours,
dealt with several other clauses of the bill, some of which were subject to
indepth questioning by the haredi MKs present, especially Gafni and Meir Porush,
also of UTJ.
Porush in particular requested to know statistics regarding
unauthorized absence from studies by yeshiva students enrolled in yeshiva in
lieu of military service.
It is believed that many such students do not
fulfill their study obligations, and the IDF representative to the committee,
Brig.-Gen. Gadi Agmon, said last week that yeshiva deans regularly sign
inaccurate declarations about student attendance.
Porush demanded to know
the origin of such claims and the figures behind them.
He also requested
information regarding the mechanism for exempting Druse women from IDF service.
Druse men are obligated to perform mandatory military service but Druse women do
Shaked requested that Agmon provide details about both
enquiries at the next hearing of the committee.
Details of a new system
of enforcement were also specified during the hearing, and were also subject to
severe criticism by the haredi MKs.
A senior official from the Education
Ministry told the committee that absence from yeshiva would not be authorized
even for the purposes of mourning (sitting shiva), hospitalization or the birth
of a new child, and that a yeshiva that records 15 percent absence in two
straight inspections would lose a proportionate amount of government
Porush expressed outrage at these terms, saying that it amounted
to religious persecution. Gafni declared that no other government-funded
institution was subject to such severe terms of inspection.
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