Committee on burden equality votes in favor of imposing harsh sanctions on ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers • Defense minister bends to PM’s demand, vote carried 4:1, with one abstaining • Poll: 67% of Israelis favor jail time for haredi draft dodgers.
Members of the Peri committee on the equality of burden on Wednesday voted in favor of imposing extensive financial and personal penalties, including filing criminal charges, against ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers who fail to report for military duty. Wednesday’s vote, which was carried 4:1 with one abstention, brings to an end a coalition crisis that threatened to destabilize the government.
The committee, comprised of chairman Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi), Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu), Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnuah), was tasked with formulating legislation to replace the Tal Law, which aimed to regulate yeshiva (religious school) students’ exemptions from military and national service and expired in August 2012.
Ya’alon, Aharonovitch, Livnat and Peri voted in favor of the reform, while Ariel voted against it. Peretz, a former defense minister, abstained.
The favorable vote was made possible after the article detailing the sanctions was revised to exclude a section stating that the defense minister would have no discretion in the matter. A new article was introduced at Ya’alon’s request, extending the grace period afforded to the ultra-Orthodox community from 2016 to 2017.
The panel presented its recommendations on Sunday, proposing that all haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youths of drafting age be made to enlist, allowing for only 1,800 yeshiva students who meet the criteria of “exceptional religious scholars” to be exempted from every draft class. The committee further recommended subjecting haredi draft dodgers to a series of financial and personal sanctions, and sought to enable authorities to bring criminal action against them.
The recommendation pertaining to sanctions, known as Article 39, met with fierce opposition from Ya’alon, who said he would not support the reform unless it was removed. The statement prompted Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid to threaten that “any attempt to torpedo the Peri committee will bring about the end of this coalition.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday asked Ya’alon to drop his objections to the article, in an attempt to bring the emerging coalition crisis to an end, but it was unclear until the very last minute whether Ya’alon would remain entrenched in his position or vote in favor of the bill so as not to clash with Netanyahu.
According to Army Radio, Ya’alon’s vote was in line with Netanyahu’s instructions to push the bill through, even if it meant yielding to Yesh Atid’s demands on the matter.
The new article stipulates that if by the end of the grace period the haredi community fails to meet its draft quotas, those refusing to comply with the draft would face criminal charges.