The latest military exemption law - a return to the 2022 (non-) conscription law

The proposed law ignores the dramatic change in Israel's security situation since October 7 and does not address the need for more combat soldiers, nor does it respect the burden on the populations that already serve

Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

The proposed law ignores the dramatic change in Israel's security situation since October 7 and does not address the need for more combat soldiers, nor does it respect the burden on the populations that already serve, both in their regular military service and in the reserves. This law was problematic even before October 7, and today it is neither relevant nor justified.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he will seek to pass the second and third readings of the Haredi conscription bill (Amendment No. 26 to the Security Service Law) that passed the first reading in January 2022, during the previous Knesset term. This amendment was drafted by the Ministry of Defense and was then passed with the support of senior members of today's opposition.

This bill did not sufficiently respond to the need to increase equality in the burden of military service, not at the time it was drafted, and certainly not today, where it is even more inappropriate given the post-October 7 security realities. This attempt to go back to a bill that was formulated about two and a half years ago does not come close to meeting the needs of the IDF, it does not even attempt to advance the principles of an equal burden of service, and it harms the populations that already bear the burden of service. The bill misses the mark in a number of ways:

  • Low conscription targets: The method of group-based conscription targets has been failing for over twenty years. It must be replaced with the paradigm of an individual duty of service for all. This is the only way it be possible to develop effective enforcement tools that will lead to the fulfillment of the obligation to serve.
    Even if we accept the validity of the conscription-targets method of recruitment, the target set in this draft law is 1,566 Haredi soldiers, that is, an increase of only 350 Haredi soldiers in the first year of the law's implementation (in recent years, approximately 1,200 Haredim have been mobilized each year). About 14,000 Haredi men are studying in the current cohort at yeshivas, which amounts to only about 10% of the current cohort's conscription potential. This is an arrangement that seriously harms equality and gives no answer to the IDF's immediate need for thousands of new combat soldiers.
  • Negative rate of growth in conscription targets: The increase in the number of Haredi conscripts stipulated in the bill is 125 additional people in the second year and 136 people in the third year. Not only are these entirely insignificant numbers relative to the needs of the IDF, but they are in fact a decrease in the recruitment rate of Haredi men. Indeed, the demographic growth of Haredi 18-year-olds is 5 times these numbers (the cycle of Haredi men aged 18 is expected to grow by about 600 young men per year). Only after 15 years does the bill account for demographic growth in Haredi society.
  • Shortened service tracks instead of combat enlistment: The bill allows for shortened service tracks after the age of 21, including tracks that last for only three weeks of service in the civilian rescue forces and only three months of service in the IDF. These tracks violate equality and do not address the IDF's combat needs. The IDF needs Haredi forces at a young age (under 21), for extended service tracks (at least two years) and serving in combat and combat support units.
  • A loose definition of "Haredi" for counting purposes: the bill states that in identifying the Haredim counted as such for the purposes of the law, a "Haredi" person is a graduate of a Haredi educational institution, regardless of their worldview at the time of their recruitment (two years of high school age at a Haredi institution would count). Today, 55% of the soldiers who are counted as Haredi in the army did not serve in Haredi tracks and at least two-thirds of them are no longer Haredi in their lifestyle, nor do they identify as such. To achieve an equal burden of service, only Haredim who serve the full length of service at a young age, and who define themselves as Haredi, should be counted towards recruitment targets. Therefore, only young people who serve in Haredi tracks should be counted.
  • Ineffective penalties: the bill would institute a cut to yeshiva budgets as an alternative to penalties for draft dodgers. This is a weak enforcement measure that will apply only after a long period of time and does not concern the Haredi individual. Such institutional enforcement measures do not constitute effective incentives to promote the conscription of yeshiva students.
    In the bill, a deviation of 5% of the enlistment targets is not addressed at all. A higher deviation will result in a reduction of payments for the yeshiva only in the third year after two consecutive years of deviation and only to the extent of 20%. The reductions will increase every year, but only in the seventh consecutive year of excess will they reach a significant amount of 80%.
    Furthermore, although the conscription and civilian national service goals were formulated separately, they can offset each other. In this case, no penalties would be applied if the designated soldiers serve in civil national service, which does not support the needs of the military at all.
    In practice, even if none of the yeshivas met the targets, it is almost impossible to fine a yeshiva and reduce its funding due to the existence of an "escape clause" for specific yeshivas that did not reach the recruitment target. Only if a certain yeshiva has exceeded its recruitment goals for 3 out of 5 years and only if it did not have 15% recruits, only then can payment reductions apply to it. This is the case for the first eight years, after which the requirement increases to 20% recruitment for 3 years, to 25% recruitment for another 3 years, and so on until the requirement of 35% recruitment at the end of 18 years from the beginning of the law.
  • Exemption age: the use of a blanket exemption must be stopped, and a general service obligation (implemented gradually), along with economic and administrative penalties, must be established alongside it. Even according to the method of those who support the continued existence of an "exemption age," it should be one that allows Haredim to integrate into the labor market- age 20-21, and not age 23 as proposed in the bill as a permanent arrangement. Inequality and the extent of the burden apply today in the security services, employment, and the payment of taxes. The proposed law does not advance any of these issues.

The bill that has limited Haredi recruitment for short periods was already unequal in 2022. Promoting this bill while ignoring the state of war, the events of October 7, and Israel's new security needs will only deepen inequality in the burden of service.