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Israeli PM Netanyahu advances contentious bill to conscript orthodox men
Middle East | May 16, 2024 2:59:20 PM IST

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Tel Aviv [Israel], May 16 (ANI/TPS): Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced on Wednesday that the Israeli premier will advance contentious legislation for conscripting members of the Orthodox Jewish community into army service.

"In order to bridge the disagreements and bring about a broad consensus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to advance the conscription law that passed its first reading in the previous Knesset," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

The legislation being presented was prepared in 2022 by former Defense Minister Benny Gantz during the previous government. That legislation never set specific quotas for Haredi, or Orthodox enlistment, but its goal was for the majority of Haredi men to be conscripted.

The legislation allowed for haredi men to continue religious studies while serving in the army, and for a small number of elite students to receive exemptions.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which coordinates legislative initiatives among various government ministries, is due to discuss the legislation on Thursday morning.

The legislation was publicly opposed by the Haredi parties in 2022, which were then in opposition. In a turn of the tables, those parties now support the legislation. Gantz is a member of the War Cabinet as a minister without a portfolio. On Saturday night, Gantz called on Netanyahu not to present his legislation, saying it would not successfully promote Haredi enlistment.

"The State of Israel needs soldiers, not political tricks that tear apart the people during war," Gantz said in response to Netanyahu's announcement. The legislation he authored "is no longer relevant in the reality after October 7," Gantz said.

But The Press Service of Israel found that Haredi attitudes towards military service have softened since Hamas's October 7 attacks.

Israel's High Court of Justice on May 2 gave the government a two-week reprieve to present its plan to conscript the country's Orthodox community into military service, a reprieve which expires on Thursday.

Haredi political leaders have threatened to quit the governing coalition if the High Court imposes conscription.

Netanyahu faces an uphill battle. Current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said he will not support any proposals not backed by Gantz or Gadi Eisenkot, another minister without portfolio serving on Israel's War Cabinet.

Military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens. However, Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the country's leading rabbis agreed to a status quo that deferred military service for Orthodox men studying in yeshivot, or religious institutions. At the time, no more than several hundred men were studying in yeshivot.

However, the Orthodox community has grown significantly since Israel's founding. In January 2023, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that Haredim are Israel's fastest-growing community and projected it would constitute 16 per cent of the population by the end of the decade. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, the number of yeshiva students exceeded 138,000 in 2021.

That demographic growth has fueled passionate debates about "sharing the burden" of military service, the status of religious study in a Jewish society, and Haredi integration. (ANI/TPS)


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