Professional Opinion

Response to the Government's Proposal for Haredi (non-) Conscription

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Response to the Government's Proposal for Haredi (non-) Conscription by Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute, and Dr. Gilad Malach, Head of IDI's Ultra-Orthodox in Israel Program

Photo by: Haim Golberg/Flash90

The government’s proposal for exemption of the ultra-Orthodox community from IDF service will cause immense and irreversible damage to Israeli security, economy and society, while continuing to cause severe harm to the principle of equality.

Not only does this model fail to address the IDF’s immediate increased personnel needs; it also risks dismantling Israel's ‘people’s army’ model of service and continues to allow the already-serving public to bear the huge burden of the war in Gaza. It is clearly aimed at exempting any ultra-Orthodox individual who does not wish to serve in the military from doing so.

The law continues to be based on enlistment targets rather than on a required duty of service for all, making it possible for all young Haredi men to dodge the draft. It also fails to impose immediate sanctions, stating that any sanctions, if incurred, will be postponed for three years.

20 years of failed attempts by the government indicate that the target-setting method for Haredi conscription simply does not work. The targets place the responsibility on the defense establishment and not on individual candidates for enlistment, thereby allowing reluctant Haredi men to evade service. The only suitable alternative is to enforce a universal service requirement and consider exemptions only for outstanding yeshiva students, within a limited scope, similarly to frameworks that currently exist for exemplary students in other disciplines. This makes military service an individual requirement and ensures that avoiding service will lead to economic consequences.

Even if conscription targets are implemented, despite their problematic nature as detailed above, they need to be clearly defined by law with fixed numbers and with annual incremental increases. The current proposal states that targets will be set at the government’s discretion, contrary to the Supreme Court ruling that these should be anchored in legislation. A "government decision" can be easily passed and just as easily revoked. Moreover, failing to meet the goals doesn’t invalidate the law, removing any practical motivation to realize them.

In its current version it does not fulfill the Supreme Court’s constitutional conditions.

A revised proposal should uphold a number of principles, including setting the draft age not later than 20-21, which would allow for thousands of Haredim to integrate into the workforce at early enough age; IDF conscription should be universal; significant economic sanctions should be imposed against conscription dodgers; an alternative of civil service should only be allowed in security-related organizations, and any transition period should ensure that nevertheless significant numbers of ultra-Orthodox soldiers join the IDF from year one of the new legislation.