MKs blast A-G for move to change haredi draft legislation

Weinstein decides to change validity of draft law until 2020, after which all Jewish men would have to enlist at age 18.

Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
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 proposed bill.
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 18.
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 service.
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 IDF.
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.
“I 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 21.
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 not serve.
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 funding.
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.