Ahead of a planned vote in the Knesset on a controversial bill amending Israel’s draft law, an opposition lawmaker from the Yesh Atid party defended plans to increase the pressure on members of the haredi community to enlist in the army, while allowing broad exemptions from service to remain intact for most of Israel’s Arab population.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces in 1948, Israel has provided various communities special consideration with regard to the otherwise universal draft.
While most able-bodied secular Jewish men and women are obliged to perform national service, religious Jewish women are exempt, along with Druze women, and most of Israel’s Muslim and Christian Arab populations – both men and women alike.
In addition, the IDF has offered full-time yeshiva students annual draft deferments, enabling a large portion of the haredi population to effectively avoid military service.
Since the 1990s, the Israeli government has sought to increase haredi enlistment into the army, as well as encourage greater Arab participation in alternative national service programs.
The latest draft bill, drawn up this year by a special committee of IDF and Defense Ministry officials at the behest of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), is set to be voted on in its first vote in the Knesset plenum later on Monday.
The bill would enshrine draft deferments for yeshiva students, which are in danger of expiring later this year, following a 2017 Supreme Court ruling striking down the 2015 draft law.
But the new proposal also sets draft goals for the haredi community, increasing each year. If any individual yeshiva’s student body fails to meet the induction goals set by the government, the yeshiva will face financial sanctions. If the haredi sector as a whole fails to meet the induction levels three years in a row, the law will be terminated.
The proposal has divided both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, and the haredi parties themselves. Nevertheless, the bill is expected to pass, with support from the Yesh Atid party, currently a member of the opposition.
On Monday, Yesh Atid MK Micky Levy defended the bill, and the broader policy of pursuing greater participation in the IDF by young haredi men, while leaving exemptions for Arab Israelis intact.
“The fact that the haredim are opposed to this proves that the law is intended to draft them,” Levy told 101.5FM Radio.
Regarding Arab enlistment in the IDF, Levy said the Arab community in Israel was not yet ready to assimilate into wider Israeli society.
“Look, friends, there is serious progress being made – Israeli Arabs are increasingly doing [civilian] national service.”
“But I wouldn’t want to see an Arab in the cockpit of an F-16. We still aren’t there yet.”