Israeli Draft Law Passes First Reading

israeli draft law
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni (UTJ) speaking in the Knesset. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90/File)

The Knesset on Monday night voted 51 to 48 in approval of a preliminary reading of the bill to recruit chareidim into the Israeli military.

The legislation is part of a government plan to lower the age at which yeshiva students are exempt from the draft from the current age of 24. It would initially be lowered to 21 for two years, then rise to 22 for a year and then increase indefinitely to 23.

The bill sets out annual targets for the number of chareidim to be enlisted per year beginning in 2022, with rates of enlistment increasing gradually.

In the event that enlistment targets are not met, the bill calls for punishing the yeshivas with a reduction of their allocations in the state budget.

The chareidi parties voted against the bill, as they did two weeks ago, as part of the ongoing struggle to defend the right to sit and learn Torah for anyone who wants to without being called up for military service.

United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni denounced the move in the Knesset plenum, crying out, “Shame! You should be ashamed!” Rabbi Gafni called it “one of the most disgraceful laws ever brought before the Knesset.”

UTJ MK Yaakov Asher said: “This draft law is an act of hypocrisy. No one thinks that a single yeshiva bochur will go into the army because of this law. It’s only purpose is once again to vilify the chareidi public, to increase the incitement and hatred against them.”

After the vote, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote in an online response:

“The entry of the Haredis into the workforce will benefit us all. Lowering the age of exemption from military service for the Haredis to the age of 21 will allow Haredi young people to study professionally at a reasonable age, work in quality jobs for a lifetime and support their families with dignity,” Bennett wrote.

The bill was defeated two weeks ago when the coalition failed to muster a majority to pass it. It must still pass two more readings in the plenum before a final vote is taken.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz introduced the bill again for Monday’s vote, in hopes of getting it passed before the end of January to comply with a ruling by the High Court which has before it a challenge to the exemption for yeshiva students.

The court has already invalidated the existing legislation on the draft. But said if new legislation is advanced quickly, it would consider granting a three-month extension suspending the ruling, which otherwise would subject yeshiva students to the draft.

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