What’s Behind the Proposed Amendment to the Defense Service Law?

Following the cancellation of the Yeshivah Student Deferral of Service Law of 2002 by the Supreme Court, Amendments No. 19 and 21 to the Defense Service Law were legislated in 2014 and 2015.

However, on Sept. 12, 2017, the High Court of Justice ruled that Amendment No. 21 is unconstitutional, and that the Law’s Section C1 will be void as of Sept. 12, 2018. Therefore, the following amendment is herein proposed.

Amendments 19 and 21 determined a new arrangement for the drafting of yeshivah students, predicated on the recognition that the chareidi public is one unit in which individuals are mutually bound and obligated to each other. This is because of the unique common values they share, and because of the State’s attitude toward this sector for over 70 years as unique.

Therefore, Amendments 19 and 21 set forth the principle that chareidim should be integrated in IDF service in a gradual and measured process, spread out over a number of years; and that they should be enabled to serve in tracks or courses other than military service. The principle of gradual integration was achieved by setting annual chareidi recruitment targets for military and civilian service.

Specifically, Amendment 19 stated that the government would set chareidi annual recruitment goals, and that by June 30, 2017, the defense minister’s authority to postpone chareidi recruitment would be limited to those under age 21. From that time on, every chareidi student must be drafted, except for 1,800 masmidim, high-level learners.

Amendment 21 stated that the above date would be changed to June 30, 2023. In addition, the defense minister was given slightly more leeway in deferring recruitments, and was not restricted to “1,800 masmidim.

In ruling the law unconstitutional as of this coming September, the High Court of Justice cited its violation of the rights of equality under the law; the fact that it did not meet the theoretical “test of rationality” in matching the means to the desired objective; lack of sufficient enforceability; vagueness in setting the defense minister’s authority and judgment; and more.

The court also noted that in practice, the law was simply not working, in that the chareidi recruitment goals were not met. Not only were the gaps between the desired and actual recruitment rates growing, it even appeared that chareidi recruitment was decreasing in proportion to the sector’s population growth.

The defense minister therefore established a committee, headed by the Defense Ministry’s legal counsel, for the purpose of formulating a viable arrangement that meets the needs of the army as a public body, the standards set by the High Court, and that gains widespread public approval.

The committee stated its belief that equality in IDF recruitment is a supreme value, vital for the preservation and strengthening of the IDF as a national public army fulfilling its goal: the defense of the State of Israel. The committee recognized the importance of Torah study and Torah scholars for the People and State of Israel.

At the same time, it felt that active disciplinary steps must be taken to reduce the inequality and to increase chareidi enlistment, with the realistic understanding that total equality with the general public would not be attained in the coming years.

In order to enable the processes in the chareidi sector to deepen and mature, it was recommended to set long-term recruitment targets with gradual increases. Given that 3,000 chareidim enlisted in 2017, and 530 joined National Service, it was decided to set starting goals of 3,100 and 600, respectively, increasing by set percentages each year.

Specifically, the chareidi recruitment targets should increase by 8 percent in the first three years: 3,348 to the IDF in 2018 (648 to National Service), then 3,617 in 2019, etc. It will increase 6.5 percent in the next three years, and 5 percent over the following four years. Over the decade following that period, the increase in targets will be lowered to the average chareidi population growth rate plus 1 percent. Economic consequences must be set if the recruitment goals are not met.

Starting from the third year after this amendment takes effect, an actual recruitment rate that falls below 95 percent of the annual target will lead to a reduction in government support for yeshivos.

Specifically, in years 3-4, if recruitment falls short of the goal by more than 5 percent, budgetary support will be cut by one percentage point for every percentage point by which the target was missed. For example, a target missed by 3 percent will lead to a budget cut in the following year of 3 percent. In years 5-6, each missing percentage point will lead to a 2 percent budget cut, and by years 9-10, it will be 4 percent. Thus, if the target is missed in 2027 by 10 percent, yeshivos will see their government allocations cut by 40 percent.

Yeshivos that meet a designated minimum level of recruitment rates will not have their budgets cut. This refers to yeshivos that meet a 20 percent rate in the years between 2018 and 2022, 25 percent in the two years thereafter and 40 percent in the years between 2025 and 2027. From the year 2028 and on, only yeshivos in which 51 percent or more of their students serve in the IDF or National Service will not have their budgets cut, even if the national rates are not met.

If a recruitment rate of at least 85 percent of the annual targets is not met for three consecutive years, this amendment will expire after 12 months.

Compensation must be given to all full-service soldiers, for instance by raising their subsistence allowance and providing complete funding for full-time undergraduate studies for all military service veterans. Administrative measures against all those who illegally avoid IDF service — not only from the chareidi public — must be taken, including denial of government benefits.

Attractive National Service tracks must be created for the chareidi population, with proper supervision and incentives. It is recommended that the age of joining National Service for married persons be 20 years, instead of the current 21.

It is further recommended that chareidim whose draft has been legitimately and annually deferred be considered completely exempt from IDF service at age 24, instead of the current 26.

A ministerial committee will be formed, tasked with reviewing achievement of the targeted chareidi enlistment rates, reduction of inequality and designated service tracks for chareidim.

No changes will be made in the regulations regarding integration of chareidim in the workforce or in recognition of chareidi yeshivos.