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Israel's parliament approves revival of ultra-orthodox enlistment bill despite criticism

June 11, 2024 01:01 PM

Tel Aviv : The Israeli Parliament Knesset approved the revival of the contentious 'ultra-orthodox' enlistment bill dealing with the military service of yeshiva students. The lawmakers voted 63-57 to apply "continuity" to a bill early Tuesday (local time).

This comes amid the ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza. The vote was to renew the legislative process where it left off, without having to start from scratch in the current session. The legislation will now advance to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to be prepared for the second and third readings it must pass to become law.

If approved finally, the bill would lower the current age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi yeshiva students from 26 to 21 and "very slowly" increase the rate of ultra-Orthodox conscription, according to Times of Israel.
However, several members of the coalition have expressed opposition to the measure.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant of Likud ended up opposing the bill. Shortly after casting his vote, he walked out of the plenum.
"The people of Israel long for agreements - national changes are carried out with broad agreement," Gallant later wrote on X. "We must not engage in petty politics at the expense of IDF soldiers."

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tore into the coalition over the vote, which he denounced as "one of the most despicable moments of humiliation of the Israeli Knesset ever."

"In the midst of another day of hard fighting in the Gaza Strip, the reckless government passes a law of evasion and insubordination. It's all politics. Zero values," Lapid said in a statement.

A day after resigning from the Israeli government, MK Benny Gantz's National Unity party accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition of having returned to a pre-October 7 approach.

While IDF soldiers are fighting for the country, [Netanyahu and the coalition] are fighting to perpetuate the [Haredi] exemption from serving," National Unity said in a statement. "It is not too late to pass a broad and comprehensive outline that will satisfy the needs of security and society."

Tuesday's vote came against the backdrop of an intense public and legal debate over blanket 'ultra-Orthodox' draft exemptions, and as the High Court of Justice considers multiple petitions demanding the immediate drafting of young Haredi men.

Ultra-Orthodox men of military age have been able to avoid being conscripted to the Israel Defence Forces for decades by enrolling in yeshivas for Torah study and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption. In 2017 the High Court ruled that mass exemptions to military service on a group basis are illegal and discriminatory.

Successive governments have since that time tried and failed to formulate new legislation to settle the matter while requesting repeated deferrals from the court, as reported by Times of Israel.

The court ruled in March that the state must cease subsidizing Haredi yeshivas whose students are eligible for the draft since the legal framework for doing so had expired. As a result, Netanyahu has had to deal with a severe political headache owing to the high priority Haredi political parties place on both yeshiva funding and military exemptions.

Netanyahu declared his support for advancing the bill last month after failing to come to an agreement with his ultra-Orthodox partners on legislation to enlist members of their community.

According to Times of Israel, Netanyahu appears to be trying to show the High Court that he is working on the enlistment issue, which would buy him time while keeping his Haredi coalition partners on board.

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