Haredi faction offers compromise on yeshiva student draft law

United Torah Judaism looks to bridge gap with Yisrael Beytenu on haredi draft law, offers to accept Liberman's draft - with one change.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

UTJ MKs addresses reporters after meeting with Netanyahu
UTJ MKs addresses reporters after meeting with Netanyahu
Hezki Baruch

The United Torah Judaism faction has offered a compromise on what is widely expected to be one of the most difficult issues facing the 35th Government of Israel – passage of a new draft law governing exemptions for yeshiva students.

As talks for the formation of a governing coalition continue, lawmakers from the UTJ have proposed a compromise plan aimed at passing a new draft law acceptable to both the haredi public and the Yisrael Beytenu party.

Under the arrangement put forward by the UTJ, according to a report by Yisrael Hayom on Wednesday, the haredi faction would accept the draft of a bill proposed by Yisrael Beytenu in the previous government – with the addition of a new article.

The bill drawn up by a committee of security officials at Yisrael Beytenu chief and then-Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman had largely protected the draft deferment program for yeshiva students, but included sanctions on yeshivas for failing to meet draft quotas, and included a clause nullifying the law if the haredi community as a whole failed to meet draft quotas for an extended period of time.

According to the report, the UTJ party is willing to accept the bill, provided it be modified to include a provision declaring that any individual yeshiva student who wishes to study Torah will be permitted to do so.

In exchange for backing the draft bill, UTJ is reportedly demanding support for an amendment to Israel’s Basic Laws, with a bill which would establish Torah study as an officially recognized value. This alteration to the Basic Law would, UTJ lawmakers say, prevent the Supreme Court from striking down the draft law.

Since the late 1970s, the Israeli Defense Ministry has offered nearly all full-time yeshiva students open-ended annual draft deferments. By the 1990s, however, the practice came under fire from critics who called the policy de facto discrimination against secular Israeli Jews.

While haredi lawmakers pointed to broader blanket exemptions from IDF service enjoyed by some minority groups – like most of Israel’s Arab population and Orthodox Jewish women – the Supreme Court ruled that the draft deferment program was indeed a violation of Israel’s Basic Laws.

After striking down the Tal Law – which was intended to encourage haredi enlistment while protecting the deferment program – in 2012, the Supreme Court charged the Knesset with passing new legislation concerning the drafting of yeshiva students.

In 2014, the 33rd Israeli government, at the behest of the Yesh Atid party, passed a more restrictive draft law, placing limitations on the draft deferment program.

A year later, however, the 34th Israeli government repealed most of the changes made by the new draft law, largely restoring the status quo ante.

In 2017, the Supreme Court intervened again, striking down the 2015 amendments to the draft law, and giving the government one year to pass a replacement bill.

After multiple extensions by the Supreme Court, the government failed to pass a replacement bill. In December 2018, the government moved to dissolve the 20th Knesset and head to early elections, forcing a further delay in the passage of a replacement draft law.

Avidgor Liberman, who leads the Yisrael Beytenu party and served as Defense Minister from 2016 until November 2018, has demanded that the next government pass the draft bill drawn up at his behest by a committee of security establishment officials.

Haredi lawmakers, however, have called for a comprehensive bill which would enshrine the deferments in Israel’s Basic Laws, and protect the existing draft deferment system with no changes.

Both Yisrael Beytenu and the haredi parties are needed by the Likud to form a majority coalition of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset.