The Likud-sponsored bill to draft ultra-Orthodox and Arab youth is unlikely to change the make-up of the Israel Defense Forces any time soon.
On Sunday, Vice Prime Minister Ya'alon presented the cabinet with the main provisions of his new military draft bill, less than a week after Kadima left the coalition over disagreements regarding the scope of the new bill and its enforcement mechanism. Ya'alon told lawmakers that the Knesset is likely to miss by a few weeks the Aug. 1 deadline set by the High Court of Justice to pass a new law that would end the de facto waiver haredi youth enjoy as a result of the Tal Law, a law enacted ten years ago that has by all accounts failed to attract large numbers of haredim into the IDF.
The High Court of Justice ruled in January that the de facto waiver haredim enjoyed under the Tal Law was unconstitutional as it discriminated against the majority of the Jewish population that does serve in the military. The justices said the government had to enact new and more just legislation to replace the law when it expires on Aug. 1.
While Ya'alon's bill does not apply the mandatory service requirement on 18-year-olds in the haredi sector, it does lower the age through which haredi youth can obtain a waiver from 28 to 26. But at that age, they are still likely to be rejected by the IDF on grounds that they are too old. Also, haredim tend to marry and have children at a relatively young age, and this would make haredi soldiers eligible for additional benefits, requiring the military to shoulder an added financial burden. The bill stipulates that starting in 2016 at the latest, 6,000 haredim would enlist in the IDF or civilian national service every year. Similarly, 5,000 Israeli Arabs would be incorporated in the national service apparatus every year. Currently, only about 2,400 haredim and a similar number of Arab Israelis join the IDF or volunteer for national service each year. Ya'alon's bill does not include a real enforcement mechanism, and thus the target figure may turn out to be unrealistic.
Under the new law, haredim would be able to obtain a waiver as long as they study in a yeshiva at least 45 hours per week and record their attendance by means of a biometric card. The new legislation stipulates that draft dodgers who falsely declare that they are studying in a yeshiva would be drafted, but beyond that, would face no additional sanctions. Moreover, the ten years in which the Tal Law has been in effect suggest that the state would not be able to enforce this provision for large numbers of yeshiva students.
Ya'alon also calls for financial incentives for the yeshivot: A yeshiva whose students serve in the military or national service will see an increase in state funding. Similarly, Arab municipalities will receive larger budgets according to the number of youths they send to national service.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose support for Ya'alon's proposal helped drive Kadima out of the government, said Sunday that the Ya'alon plan would "give more to conscripts and less to draft dodgers." He said the plan would significantly increase the number of haredim drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and the number of haredim and Arabs doing national service. "This is a realistic and feasible change, not just a political move," Netanyahu said.
When presenting the plan, Ya'alon said that "because Kadima and Likud could not agree on a plan, he is now formulating a plan of his own." Ya'alon noted that the staff work is overseen by the Prime Minister's Office, which is coordinating the various provisions with the relevant government ministries.
The Israeli Forum for Equal Service, which supports the so-called Suckers' Camp — a group of reservists that has led a national campaign for universal conscription — dismissed Ya'alon's presentation. "It is humiliating to see a former chief of general staff selling out those who serve for the sake of an unexplained political deal with the haredi parties. His plan is worse than the Tal Law," read a statement.