Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90
Minister Sofa Landberg voted against the coalition bill, although her Yisrael Beiteinu party is a coalition partner. March 13, 2018.

The Knesset plenum on Tuesday night approved in a preliminary reading a proposed amendment to the Security Service Law regulating the enlistment status of Torah students (meaning Haredi recruits). The bill was submitted by MK Yoav Ben Tzur (Shas) and a group of Knesset members. The vote was 58 for and 38 against, including one coalition member, Minister of Aliyah and Integration Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu).

The preliminary vote on Tuesday night officially ended a coalition crisis that had lasted more than a week during which Haredi and secular coalition members slugged it out, using the largely fictitious brawl to signal to their respective voters how dedicated they were to forcibly enlisting Haredim under penalty of prison, or to fighting to the death so that no Haredi would ever be enlisted.

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By the time the bill reaches the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, it will face more enemies than friends, including at least one, if not more coalition partner. So that the bill at this point is less legislation and more kicking the Haredi draft can down the street.

The explanatory notes accompanying the proposed amendment read: “This bill is intended to present the actual arrangement, while determining in principle the proper balance that should be attributed to Torah study in the face of the High Court’s comments.”

The court rejected an earlier version of the law, arguing that it was not yielding the results—an equal shouldering of the national security burden—at a pace that was fast enough. The new bill is an attempt redefine which Torah students are entitled to benefit from an extended deferment or a complete relief from their obligation to enlist in the military.

The explanatory notes say the bill proposes to clarify a change in the status of the value of Torah study. It also proposes that the defense minister would postpone the military service of a person who meets the other conditions stipulated in the law. It also proposes to eliminate the second period of adjustment prescribed by the original law. Instead, it is proposed to establish only one [staggered] adjustment period of four years for Haredi recruits. This period will be extended automatically if the recruitment goals for Haredim set forth in the arrangement are met.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked responded on behalf of the government to questions regarding the proposed amendment, saying “there is a natural process in progress, which began over the past ten years, starting with 300 conscripts and currently stands at 3,000.

“I am happy that a good plan has been reached to pass the law in a preliminary vote and then it will be changed with the consent of the coalition members so that it will be constitutionally valid, be acceptable to various groups, and be coordinated with the Ministry of Defense,” Shaked said.

“No one thinks that forced recruitment would lead to mass mobilization,” Shaked said, adding, “The army does not want tens of thousands of Haredim to enlist now. This process needs to be done with much wisdom, understanding, and mutual respect. If we do this through a dialogue, I’m sure we’d succeed.”

MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), the frontline contender to replace Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party at the helm, was outraged: “I’ll tell you where the Torah scholars would have been without the IDF,” he said, “They would have been dead. Because without the IDF it would be impossible to maintain the State of Israel.”

“I don’t recall that it says in the Torah that you can send others to be killed for you. The shameful surrender of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, who are you trying to fool? Cowards, sacrificing IDF soldiers for the sake of your narrow political interests. Since when did Torah study contradict service to the homeland? Shame on you.”

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