Coalition agreement has clause softening ultra-Orthodox enlistment law

Likud-led bloc retains control over Religious Services Ministry, no mention of status quo on religion and state in coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White

An Israeli soldier of the Ultra-Orthodox brigade takes part in a swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli soldier of the Ultra-Orthodox brigade takes part in a swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White includes a clause which will soften proposals made during the last government to increase ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the IDF.
The clause states that while legislation drafted by the Defense Ministry during the rule of the 34th government will be advanced in the new Knesset, targets for ultra-Orthodox men will be determined by the government and not in the legislation itself.
This has given rise to concerns that the enlistment targets will be set deliberately low by the government, which will include the United Torah Judaism and Shas ultra-Orthodox parties, in order to avoid any of the financial sanctions to the general yeshiva budget set out in the bill.
This government must pass a new law to regulate government efforts to increase the numbers of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the IDF, and secure exemptions for the majority who will still not serve, since the High Court of Justice struck down the previous arrangement in 2017.
In addition to the change to how targets are set, a clause in the Defense Ministry bill which determined that the law would automatically expire if annual enlistment targets were missed by more than 15 percent for three consecutive years has been scrapped.
Instead, should targets be missed in this way the government will within one year establish “an annual recruitment plan” and approve a plan for positive and negative economic incentives for meeting or failing to meet goals.
The amendments to the original Defense Ministry draft law were made in accordance with recommendations made by former Shas MK and minister Ariel Attias.
Even when the bill was originally drafted, experts on the ultra-Orthodox community noted that the targets for increasing enlistment to the IDF were not ambitious.
The enlistment targets increase by eight percent per year for the first three years, 6.5% for the next three years, and 5% for the following four years.
The haredi population itself is however growing by 4.4% a year.
Last year it was revealed that earlier government-established enlistment targets had been routinely missed and that inaccurate figures artificially inflating the number of ultra-Orthodox men supposedly serving in the IDF had been published instead of the accurate figures.
Absent from the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue and White was any mention of the sensitive issues of religion and state which routinely arise on the national agenda.
Traditionally, the ultra-Orthodox parties insist on a veto on all such matters and will likely do so in their separate agreements with the Likud.
A Shas source confirmed that the party was indeed seeking such guarantees.
One issue which Blue and White leader Benny Gantz promised to advance on several occasions, including his maiden political speech in December 2018 and at the AIPAC policy conference in March 2019 was the Western Wall plan for a state-recognized egalitarian section at the site.
No mention was made of this in the coalition agreement.
The coalition deal gives control of the Religious Services Ministry to the Likud-led bloc, and it will likely be handed to the Shas party which has traditionally run this ministry.