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Knesset approves haredi enlistment bill

Publicized: March 12, 2014

The Knesset on Wednesday passed into law the Security Service Bill (amendment No. 19), 2014, which drafts previously exempt yeshiva students into the IDF or National Service program. The legislation has also been called the Enlistment Bill and the Equal Service Bill.

Sixty-six MKs voted in favor of the bill in its second reading in the plenum, while only one opposed (MK Yoni Chetboun of HaBayit HaYehudi). Sixty-five lawmakers supported the bill in its third reading. MK Chetboun cast the sole ”nay” vote in the third reading. The voting was boycotted by Opposition parties.

The law is meant to regulate the incorporation of yeshiva students into the army or National Service program in two stages. During the intermediary stage, until 2017, yeshiva students will be able to decide between enlisting in the army, joining the National Service program or continuing their studies in a religious seminary. Yeshiva students who are 22 when the law is enacted will be eligible for an exemption from army service so that they will be able to join the workforce. Those who are between 18 and 22 years old when the law is enacted will be able to defer their service until the age of 24, at which time they will be eligible for an exemption.

During the intermediary stage, and after it, the government will set increasing enlistment targets. Should those targets be met during the intermediary stage and the second stage, enlistment will remain voluntary, and yeshiva students will be able to postpone their service until the age of 26 and then gain a full exemption.

However, if the enlistment target for a certain year is not met, all haredi yeshiva students aged 21 will thereafter be legally obligated to serve – with a possible six- to 12-month delay – except for 1,800 standout students each year who will get complete exemptions, so they can continue with their yeshiva studies.

The new law also states that women’s service will be extended for four months, but not before July 1, 2016, and then only on condition that the defense minister presents the matter to the cabinet for approval. In addition, as of July, 2015, the army service of men from the general population will be reduced from 36 months to 32 months.

Participants of the national-religious hesder yeshiva program for combined religious study and military service are to serve 17 months in the military, up from the current 16-month period of service.

The new law allows Zionist yeshiva students to study until the age of 23 before enlisting. A select group of 300 students will be allowed to postpone enlistment until age 26.

”This is a historic, important bill,” MK Ayelet Shaked (HaBayit HaYehudi) said during the debate on the enlistment bill. Shaked led the special Knesset committee to prepare the legislation. ”For 65 years there was an exemption for all yeshiva students and the change the coalition made is proportionate and gradual and correct.”

Mk Shaked said that she ”believes in the haredi public and that it will reach the [enlistment] goals the government set. If there will be cooperation from haredi leadership, there will not be mandatory enlistment.

”I imagine this law will reach the High Court by tomorrow. I hope the judges will read the protocols of the committee meetings and see that even if the law is not equal it has a worthy goal, which is why I think it will stand the test of the High Court,” she added.

Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid), who headed a committee on the matter of haredi enlistment, said following the passage of the bill, ”For the first time, an issue at the heart of the conflict of Israeli society will be solved. Dramatic change will come.”

Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid), who is a rabbi, said prior to the vote that the public discourse in the haredi community ”places the value of studying Torah above the value of army or civil service for the general good…As though enlisting in the IDF hurts the intensity, scope, centrality and importance of studying Torah.”

”Army or national service are a moral and national obligation, but they are just as much a halachi obligation,” he said.

Minister Piron further told the plenum that when the haredim enlist in the army the State of Israel will become ”more Jewish.”

On Tuesday MK Chetboun said he would vote against the bill because it is ”ill-conceived and comes at the peak of a wave of anti-religious legislation that seeks to dilute the Jewish character of the State of Israel.”

During Wednesday`s plenary session, the Knesset also approved the National and Civil Service Bill, 2014. Sixty-seven MKs voted in favor of the bill in its second reading in the plenum, while only one opposed (MK Chetboun). The same number of lawmakers supported the bill in its third reading. MK Chetboun voted against the bill in its third reading as well.

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