Photo Credit: Basal Awidat / Flash 90
Israeli soldiers praying as IDF forces seen reinforcing presence in the Golan Heights in northern Israel.

The Israeli Cabinet has approved a proposal on Sunday (Aug. 22) to lower the age for exemption from IDF service for young men from the strictly Orthodox sector to 21.

The bill was proposed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.

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Under the plan, the exemption age will drop immediately to 21, for the next two years (until Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid becomes prime minister in accordance with the coalition rotation agreement).

After 24 months, the exemption age will be raised to 22; 12 months later, the exemption age will be raised to 23.

At the same time, even when the exemption age is raised to 22 and to 23 strictly Orthodox young men will be able to be released from compulsory IDF service at age 21 provided they join the labor market by undergoing professional training or training for security, emergency or rescue activity.

A team composed of representatives of the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister, will be formed to evaluate tracks for IDF service and national and civilian service, as well as create a “new, wide-ranging, and updated plan that meets security, economic and social needs in Israel,” the prime minister said.

The team is slated to present its conclusions by November 2022, when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will be more than halfway through his term under the coalition rotation agreement.

The plan for lowering the exemption age will only take effect upon the completion of the legislative process in the Knesset. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation has been authorized to deal with the issue.

“For decades the State of Israel has consistently chosen to cut off its nose to spite its face, as it were, out of anger over ultra-orthodox who do not serve,” Bennett said, noting that the same population was also compelled not to join the labor market until they were older.

“Today, we are putting a stop to this and opening the labor and employment markets to ultra-orthodox young men,” Bennett said, “allowing freedom of choice for many thousands of ultra-orthodox young men, without coercion and without tanks in Bnei Brak.

“This is the long and correct road on behalf of the national interest,” Bennett said. “Integrating the ultra-orthodox sector into the employment market is a goal of the highest order, for all of us.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.