The High Court of justice on Tuesday evening rejected the state’s request for a further postponement of the reform of the draft law that exempts yeshiva students from conscription into the IDF. The court ruled that the current draft law must be repealed in three months, on February 1, 2021. The judges added that “it is expected that no further extensions will be requested.”
The High Court decided to repeal the law back in 2017 but ruled that its decision would take effect only one year later, to allow the state to prepare for the cancellation or to formulate an alternative arrangement. Since then, the state has asked for one extension after another, because it was unable to formulate an arrangement that would be passed by the Knesset.
The deadline for the cancellation had been set for October 28, and the state asked to postpone it until the end of April 2021 – but the High Court justices only allowed an extension until the beginning of February.
The High Court repealed Amendment 21 to the Security Service Law in 2017, ruling that it was unacceptable for the state—according to the amendment—to continue exempting yeshiva students from service until 2023. The ruling was made by a panel of nine judges, only one of whom, Justice Noam Solberg, sided with the government.
Then Supreme Court President Miriam Naor wrote at the time that the amendment “suffers from inherent difficulties,” and pointed to “a profound failure of the amendment to realize the goal of significantly reducing inequality in the distribution of the burden of military service.”
President Naor wrote that “during the first adjustment period (until 2023) the arrangement is completely voluntary and lacks coercive force,” which she argued deprives it of any significant meaning. She also suggested the amended law allows draft exemptions for yeshiva students up to the age of 21, and in effect gives too much room for the defense minister’s discretion.
Naor also attacked the fact that the amended law does not offer any permanent solution that would be applied after 2023 since Haredi parties will just continue to apply pressure on the prime minister, who will continue to capitulate.
“Given the lessons of the past, it must be admitted that, unfortunately, the expectation that the new draft arrangement would bring about a real change in the state of affairs is nothing more than wishful thinking at best, and nothing more than a way of postponing the inevitable.”
The Likud coalition agreement with Shas and United Torah Judaism states that as soon as the new government is launched the draft law will be enacted according to the proposal of the Defense Ministry and the IDF, but with substantial changes, most notably setting the Haredi recruitment goals by government order and not by legislation, in a way that can be changed following the demands of the Haredi parties. The coalition agreement also says that should the new law be rejected by the High Court of Justice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rightwing bloc would take steps “to repair the harm in light of the recognition of the importance of Torah study and in keeping with a government policy that insists that the State of Israel would not set limits on the number of Torah scholars.”
Despite the coalition agreement, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has refrained from promoting the new draft law in the Knesset and instead asked the High Court to grant an extension to the existing law, justifying the request with his claim that the delay was due to the coronavirus and the desire to maintain Israel’s security superiority.
The heads of the Haredi factions saw Gantz’s move for what it was – an attempt to keep the law as a bargaining chip in his dealing with Netanyahu and the Haredim.
Attorney Tomer Naor (no connection to the retired Justice) from the Movement for Quality of Government, one of the petitioners to the High Court against the extension, said that “the court did well to stop this farce of the state that requested one extension after another, altogether eight extensions, rather than repealing the law.”
According to him, “the time has come for the State of Israel to have one uniform and equal law for everyone and for the discrimination between people to cease.”
The Equal Burden Forum, also a petitioner, stated the old law is illegal: “The High Court has accepted our position that the government’s endless postponements and excuses should not be accepted. The current draft law, which has no teeth to make sure that more Haredim take part in the mission of defending the state like all the other young people, is invalid and should be taken out of this world soon,” they said.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) welcomed the High Court’s decision, saying, “The Netanyahu government has been evading the draft law for five years, it is time to bring back burden equality. Every young man and woman are compelled to serve their country. No one gets a discount. The High Court rules today: enough with surrendering to political brokers with the draft law.”
Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman MK Avigdor Liberman said that the court’s decision “only strengthens the necessity for an equal burden in the State of Israel.”
Liberman added that his party “submitted its arguments to the High Court to prevent the extension of the draft law, with a deep understanding that the participation of the Haredi public in the life of the state and the observance of its laws goes beyond the question of recruiting yeshiva students and becomes a question of general national importance whose scope and implications become clear before our eyes and will become even clearer in the future.”