Ministers approve compromise to lower age of exemption for ultra-Orthodox IDF

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Government ministers on Sunday approved a plan to lower the age at which members of the ultra-Orthodox community can be exempted from military service, pushing through a compromise to potentially end part of a legislative standoff four years on Haredi compulsory military service.

As part of this plan, the exemption age must be immediately lowered to 21, from the current 24 for ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Many yeshiva students are believed to be staying in religious studies programs longer than they normally would in order to avoid the project by demanding academic postponements until they reach the age of exemption. . By lowering this exemption age, the government hopes to encourage these Haredi men to leave the yeshiva and enter the workforce at a younger age.

In two years, the age will rise to 22, although an exemption from military service will be granted to members of the Ultra-Orthodox community at age 21 if they undergo some other form of civilian training or “high-level vocational training.” quality”. At the end of one year, the exemption age will increase to 23 years, where it will remain indefinitely, under the same conditions.

Under the proposed model, ultra-Orthodox men will be allowed to perform their required service by serving for three months in an approved position – in medical care, education, elder care, or other civic setting – and agreeing to serve in the reserves thereafter, instead of serving in the Israel Defense Forces for two years and eight months, plus reserves, as required of other Israeli Jewish men.

“Due to all the anger towards the Haredim who do not recruit, they also forced them not to join the workforce until they are old enough. Today we are putting an end to this, ”Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at a government meeting that approved the plan on Sunday.

Bennett called the move “historic”, adding that “integrating the ultra-Orthodox community into the workforce is a top priority for all of us.”

A group of ultra-Orthodox men wear protective masks following government measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as they walk through the Old City of Jerusalem, July 16, 2020 (AP Photo / Oded Balilty)

The plan has yet to be approved by the Knesset, where opposition Haredi politicians could try to prevent it from becoming law.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has made ultra-Orthodox conscription a central part of his secular agenda, said the deal is a step towards “a comprehensive plan” that will require national or military service for all communities in Israel, “secular and ultra-Orthodox, Jews and Arabs.

“The army’s goal is to protect the homeland but also to be the ‘melting pot’ that unites society. Our decision balances the crucible with the needs of the economy, ”he said.

The deal on Sunday’s plan addresses part of a larger struggle over the form of ultra-Orthodox conscription in Israel.

The Haredi population of Israel overwhelmingly opposes the performance of compulsory national civil or military service, seeing it as a way for outside forces to potentially attract its members. Some extremist elements of the Haredi community protested violently against military conscription.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men block a road during a demonstration against the imprisonment of a Jewish seminary student who did not respect an army recruiting order, Jerusalem, December 8, 2019 (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

For decades, ultra-Orthodox Israelis have enjoyed a near-blanket exemption from national service in favor of religious studies, but in 2012 the High Court of Justice struck down the law authorizing the arrangement, ruling it was discriminatory. .

A new law was drafted to address the issue, but it was also overturned in 2017 by the court, which demanded that the government pass new legislation on the matter, otherwise Haredi Israelis would be forced to enlist.

For the past four years, the defense minister has requested and received extensions because he failed to draft and pass legislation that would both pass with the former prime minister’s Haredi coalition partners. Benjamin Netanyahu and would not be breaking the country’s discrimination law either. The current tenth extension is scheduled to expire on June 1, 2022.

Illustration: Soldiers from the IDF’s ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion sit in a field at Peles military base in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi / Flash90)

A committee composed of representatives of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs should be set up to examine the current bills and develop a new scheme “in line with the needs of security, the economy and of society in Israel ”.

He will submit his recommendations by November 2022, the prime minister’s office said.

Gantz had previously demanded that lowering the exemption age also be accompanied by approval of a plan he supported that would extend the national service requirement to ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis, who are also legally exempt.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak at the swearing-in ceremony for new President Isaac Herzog on July 7, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Under Gantz’s plan, all Israelis will eventually be required to perform some form of national service after high school. Each year, the quota for the number of people required to perform national service would increase by 5,000, until after six to eight years each eligible person was covered.

On Sunday, Gantz said, the plan “is a bridge to the service plan that I intend to bring to the government in the coming months to regulate the issue of service in Israel.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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