Haredim, IDF

Israeli Lawmakers revive controversial bill on Charedi military exemptions 

Legislation to lower exemption age for Yeshiva students faces political and legal hurdles.

Haredim, Bnei Brak, Israel, 2022 (Photo: Shutterstock/Michael Hatzalam )

Yesterday (Monday) Israeli lawmakers voted 63-57 to apply "continuity" to a contentious bill concerning the military service of yeshiva students.

This move revives the legislation from the previous Knesset without restarting the process, allowing it to advance to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for further readings. If passed, the bill would lower the exemption age for Haredi yeshiva students from 26 to 21 and gradually increase ultra-Orthodox conscription.

As reported on Times of Israel, despite opposition from several coalition members, only Defense Minister Yoav Gallant voted against it, criticizing the political maneuvering.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemned the vote, while National Unity leader Benny Gantz accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of perpetuating exemptions at the expense of IDF soldiers. Lapid bitterly criticized the move, saying, ""The biggest sin is this government that dares to speak on behalf of [IDF] fighters," said Lapid. "Today the IDF announced that it needs 15 battalions. Where are we going to get them if this government encourages order refusal and draft dodging? At least don't talk about your commitment to the fighters and then come here and pass laws on order refusal and draft dodging."

Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu urged Likud members to vote based on Israel's security interests. He criticized the government for passing the bill during ongoing conflict, calling it a move against security needs for political survival. Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, supported the bill but insisted on necessary revisions to meet security needs.

The vote occurs amid intense debate over Haredi draft exemptions, with the High Court demanding immediate drafting of Haredi men. Historically, ultra-Orthodox men have avoided conscription by enrolling in yeshivas, a practice the High Court ruled illegal in 2017. The court's patience is waning, particularly as military manpower needs increase due to conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon.

In March, the court mandated the state cease subsidizing yeshivas for draft-eligible students, pressuring Netanyahu to balance coalition demands and legal requirements. Despite supporting the bill to show progress on enlistment, Netanyahu faces criticism for failing to reach a comprehensive agreement.

Although Charedi parties may back the bill to placate the court, they are expected to seek revisions, conflicting with more secularist Likud members' desires. Advancing the bill further will be challenging due to these divergent demands and the complex political landscape.

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