Activists fight haredi draft decision

Secular organization Hiddush petitions High Court of Justice.

haredi soldiers kotel 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi soldiers kotel 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The activist organization Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday, asking the justices to cancel a cabinet decision making it easier for haredi men to avoid compulsory service in the army.
The cabinet decision was also the subject of another petition filed a week earlier by the Movement for Quality Government.
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The cabinet approved the decision on July 16. However, the proposal to make it easier for haredim to avoid the draft was buried among more than 100 other proposals included a document laying down the government’s policy for the 2011- 2012 state budget, which is soon to be brought to a vote before the Knesset plenum in first reading. The document is titled “Economic Policy for 2011-2012.”
The cabinet did not discuss or vote on each proposal separately. The Treasury presented the document to the ministers on July 6 and they voted for the proposals en bloc the following week.
The petitioners took issue with the provision that stated, “The minister of defense is instructed to approve the request of anyone, regardless of his marital status, who is subject to perform security service to [instead] carry out public service, as long as he is 22 years old and has had a draft deferment for at least four years.
“The provision will come into effect on September 1, 2010.”
The petitioners charged that the cabinet decision violated the Tal Law, which deals with haredi military service and provides options for those who have studied at least four years in a yeshiva.
One of the options offered by the law is to spend a year in public service, after which the draft-age haredi man will no longer be liable for compulsory military service and may enter the work force without fear of being drafted. Before the Tal Law, anyone who left the yeshiva during his draftage years could be conscripted.
However, there is a key difference between the cabinet decision and the Tal Law on this matter.
As opposed to last month’s cabinet decision, the Tal Law, which has not been amended and is still binding, states that the minister of defense must approve any request to perform public service by a draft-age haredi.
The cabinet decision removes the right of decision from the minister of defense and grants it unconditionally to the haredi man himself.
The petitioners also said the cabinet decision violated the Basic Law: Freedom and Equality as well as a 1998 High Court ruling that determined that the arrangement whereby draftage haredi men could be exempted from military service had to be based on laws rather than secondary legislation.
Although the two petitions raised similar arguments, Hiddush stressed the alleged illegality in the way the cabinet decision was made.
“We believe it is absolutely clear that no public authority with legal powers may apply them in the way that the cabinet approved the decision,” wrote attorney Yehoshua Schoffman, a former deputy attorney-general, who represents Hiddush.
“A decision-making procedure such as this is inconceivable, that is, one in which a public authority gathers dozens of different and diverse issues that the law has authorized it to deal with and instead of examining each issue individually, decides on the entire package en bloc.”
The Movement for Quality Government stressed the fact that the cabinet decision contradicted an existing law, and said that the law was not a dead letter.
The minister of defense actually did use his discretionary powers to decide which haredi applicant should serve in the army and which could substitute public service for army service, wrote attorneys Eliad Shraga, Tzroya Meidad- Luzon and Dafna Kiro- Cohen. The law had insisted on this to emphasize that military service was more important than public service and that the defense minister, who knew the army’s needs, should be able to determine whether some of the applicants were particularly needed by the army to fill its needs, they wrote.
Not only that, but although the law permits the minister of defense to consider allowing draft-age haredi men to perform public service from the age of 22, the defense minister until now has only allowed those between the ages of 22-26 who are married and have at least one child to do so. He only began to consider the requests of single haredi men from the age of 26.
The cabinet decision allows any draft-age haredi man 22 years of age and older to choose public service, whether he is married or not.