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The Conscription Law and Military Service among the Ultra-Orthodox

The ultra-Orthodox conscription bill was one of the root causes of the dispersion of the 20th Knesset, and a major factor in the inability to form a new government coalition. There is no doubt that the bill will play an important role in the discussions to form the next government, after the upcoming elections. 

A Ministry of Defense proposal for recruitment of the ultra-Orthodox was presented to the Knesset and aroused the objection of the ultra-Orthodox parties. Is it a feasible plan?

In light of the growing number among the ultra-Orthodox serving in the IDF, shouldn’t we be looking not only on the impact of their service on the IDF, but also on the impact of military service on the ultra-Orthodox? 


Former Minister Naftali Bennett: "The IDF will make do without a major increase in ultra-Orthodox participation.  The Israeli economy, on the other hand, will not.  There are less and less people willing to carry the weight of the 'stretcher' that is the Israeli economy, while more and more people pile on top of it.  In the end, we will collapse.  This is why we are at a critical juncture.  The immediate need is for the Haredi population to obtain high-quality jobs and join the workforce.  Therefore, the exemption rate from military service should be lowered immediately from 24 to 21 while at the same time dramatically increasing the financial incentives for those serving in the IDF.  This is likely to elicit a reaction from the i Supreme Court to the effect that  this plan does not grant equality before the law.  This is a classic example of where the Court should refrain from getting involved and allow society, economic factors, and the politicians to grapple with a complicated issue that does not have a simple answer."

Former Minister Bennett on the Immunity Law: "Our position has been consistent: we opposed, and will continue to oppose, any law legislated on a personal basis. In principle, I support expanding the immunity law, but not on an individual basis and not retroactively. If you want to discuss the application of the immunity law to a  future prime minister, I am open to the idea to defining  levels of criminal accusations that can wait until the end of a term, but not regarding a specific case."

Yohanan Plesner, President of IDI: "The next government must legislate a conscription law because there is no legal way to allow these current exemptions.  The model of a 'people's army' demands full equality, but it is hard to see how this could be accomplished in the near future. We also don't see how a professional army could fulfil Israel's security needs and defend the country's borders. Given the instability of the  situation, we also believe that more incentives should be provided for those who do serve, to encourage enlistment of more ultra-Orthodox men. Our goal should be a maximum number of ultra-Orthodox men serving until age 21, and then—their entering the work force, ge rather than forcing  them to remain in the yeshiva until age 24."

MK Oded Forer, Yisrael Beiteinu: "Over the years, the IDF has succeeded in forging unity. No one doubts that the military is an important base for  Israel's hi-tech industry, because those who served are considered high-quality manpower and are able to think out of the box.  Most importantly, the 'people's army' model creates upward social mobility and a sense of unity that allows growth."

Yulia Eitan, Head of the Employment Administration for Special Populations at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services:  "The ultra-Orthodox enter  the workforce with very limited skills.  The earlier we being to provide the services of our Ministry to younger members of this community, the more impact we will have.  This is why we recommend lowering the age at which  Haredm  will be  able to begin acquiring the relevant skills needed to integrate in today's workforce.  We do not want to miss out on crucial years."

Former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan: "The value of 'equality' is very important. But there are many facets  of equality that are not dealt with, such as women in combat positions, enlisting ultra-Orthodox women, and more, .  The question of equality versus the values of society is something we need to balance. The value of equality is not absolute.

Regarding shortening the term of  service, we are in a situation of  demographic growth, but the needs of the military needs are not growing. I assume that within a decade we will be able to shorten the service of men and women to two years, mostly because the IDF will not be able to deal with these large numbers of enlistees."

Professor Karnit Flug, Vice President of IDI: "There is tension between the value of equality – which demands some sort of sanctions against those who do not enlist – and a pragmatic approach to ensure that we provide an opportunity to acquire the skills to enter the workforce at a younger age.  IDI's proposal seeks to balance between these two needs and to ensure that a future law could be implemented and effective."

Asaf Wassercug, Budgets Department, The Ministry of Finance: "While over the past decade there has been  an increase in ultra-Orthodox employment, over the past few years that has been a 1.5% decrease in employment for Haredi men.  The age of entrance into the job market is a significant factor.  An ultra-Orthodox man enters the job market at age 24 and his salary is 30% lower than  that of a non-Haredi Jewish Israeli.  This is why ultra-Orthodox employment is a strategic issue  for the Israeli workforce over the next few decades.  The younger the age at which Haredim enter the workforce, the more we will see them working  in higher quality jobs.."

Dr. Gilad Malach, Director of IDI's Ultra-Orthodox in Israel Program: "The fact that twenty years have passed since the Tal Commission issued its recommendations can provoke many reactions.  The pessimists will say that nothing has happened.  The optimists will say that, actually, a lot has happened.  The direction we are heading in is one of compromise in which we will attempt to aspire towards equality while also recognizing the realpolitik of what is achievable.  By following this measured and incremental path, when we meet in five years we will be able to  say that we made significant progress towards equality and meaningful integration of ultra-Orthodox Israelis."

Rabbi Hanoch Rosinsky, Shachar Organization:  "I wish to see Haredi youth serving in commando units.  It is possible to think of ways to achieve this.  But in any case, we are talking about a gradual social  process.  The more they achieve in Israeli society, the more the ultra-Orthodox will view military service as the norm.  Military service has started to slowly sink in within ultra-Orthodox society.  The government should be thinking about how it can do more to reach this goal."

Dr. Asaf Malchi, IDI: "The military is the country's most potent employment engine.  There is no replacement for military service when it comes to serving as a melting pot into Israeli society.  Those who serve in the military acquire  individual and social resources  that they will not acquire in specialized single-sex academic institutions that are cut off from the rest of society, or by entering directly into the workforce." 


3:30 PM Opening Remarks

Yohanan Plesner, President, Israel Democracy Institute

3:45 - 5:15 PM First Session: The Conscription Law: The Ideal and the Compromise

Opening Remarks: 

Dr. Gilad Malach, Director, Ultra-Orthodox in Israel Program, Israel Democracy Institute 

Assaf Vasserchik, Deputy Director of the Budget Division, Ministry of Finance

Yulia Eitan, Head of the Employment Administration for Special Populations, Ministry of Labor


Former Minister of Education Naftali Bennet, the New Right

MK Uzi Dayan, Likud

MK Oded Forer, Yisrael Beiteinu

Prof. Karnit Flug, Vice President, Israel Democracy Institute

Moderator: Dr. Gilad Malach, Director, Ultra-Orthodox in Israel Program, Israel Democracy Institute 

5:15 - 6:30 PM Second Session: The ultra-Orthodox in the IDF: Social and Economic Benefits and the Costs to the Military 


Rabbi Hanoch Gruzinsky, Shachar Program

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yair Golan

Minister Rafi Peretz, Chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Parties

MK Ofer Shelah, Blue and White

Dr. Asaf Malchi, Researcher, Israel Democracy Institute

Dr. Idit Shafran Gittleman, Researcher, Israel Democracy Institute

Moderator: Prof. Amichai Cohen, Director, Center for Security and Democracy, Israel Democracy Institute