The state has no legal authority to continue not recruiting eligible Israeli ultra-Orthodox (haredi) citizens, after part of Israel’s Defense Service Law that outlines the delay mechanism of IDF service for haredi citizens who wish to continue their higher religious (yeshiva) studies expired over the weekend, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG) argued in a statement on Sunday.
"The law on drafting yeshiva students has expired. As of today, the arrangement that allows ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to be exempted from service in the IDF is no longer extant, and the state is obligated to recruit them as well," the statement read.
Israel's cabinet last Sunday approved a plan, according to which a new law would only be passed by the end of March 2024. According to the plan, during the so-called "interim period" until the new law is approved, the government "directs the defense minister to direct the chief of staff" not to take steps to draft eligible haredi men, as long as they "present before the authorities the approval of their studies in a yeshiva based on the needs and demands of the army."
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Attorney Hidday Negev, head of MQG’s policy and legislation department, said in the statement, “The state’s foot-dragging on the drafting of yeshiva students has brought us to the point that the arrangement for draft exemptions has now expired. We regret that the defense minister and the government are seeking a discriminatory and selective enforcement policy, in direct opposition to the provisions of the Defense Service Law."
"We have informed them that they have no authority to continue the policy of not recruiting the ultra-Orthodox and that it will be a criminal decision in contravention of the provisions of the law."
The state argued last week that the law gives the IDF 12 months to draft potential conscripts whose exemption has run out, and therefore there was nothing unlawful about the decision not to immediately begin drafting eligible haredi men.
The law that expired over the weekend, which passed in 2014 and was amended in 2015, set allotments of haredi draftees to the IDF per year and sanctioned yeshivot that do not meet these allotments. In September 2017, the Supreme Court deemed the bill unconstitutional, since the exemption it gave was ruled to be disproportionately sweeping and was thus constituted unjustified discrimination. The court initially gave the Knesset a year to amend the bill, but this was delayed 15 times due to the recurring elections since then. The current extension was supposed to last until July 31.
However, MQG pointed out in a motion to the Supreme Court earlier this month that the law itself – not the Supreme Court ruling to strike it down – says explicitly that it applies until June 30, 2023.
In a letter addressed to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the entire Israeli government immediately after the decision not to enforce the draft was made last Sunday, MQG wrote that "an unequal and unconstitutional draft arrangement cannot be ordered by a government decision." The government "must enact an arrangement regarding the draft in law, as they have given undertakings to do so to the Supreme Court over the past six years," MQG added.
“Due to the fact that they chose not to enact a new draft law… the only legal option they have as of this time is to recruit yeshiva students in the same way as all other Israeli citizens,” the movement wrote.