draft dodge

Gantz rejects Netanyahu’s embrace of his pre-war Haredi enlistment policy

The former defense minister said that the 2022 legislation does not go far enough to address Israel’s post-Oct. 7 needs

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Benny Gantz, former minister of Defense and part of the emergency government attends the funeral for First Sergeant Major Gal Meir Eisenkot, 25 years old, at the Herzliya cemetery on December 8, 2023, in Herzliya, Israel.

With the Israeli army in need of more troops as it fights on multiple fronts in the south and north, a politically sensitive bill to draft more Haredim into the IDF hit yet another snag on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will back war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz’s proposal for Haredi enlistment in the IDF, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday, but Gantz rejected Netanyahu’s embrace because the bill, from 2022, does not go far enough to address Israel’s post-Oct. 7 needs.

Netanyahu’s announcement came following orders from the High Court of Justice to pass a law regulating Haredi enlistment or to start sending call-up letters to all Haredi 18-year-old males. The court’s intervention threatened Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which relies on Haredi parties that are opposed to any change of the status quo. 

“In order to mediate the disputes and bring broad agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to advance the enlistment bill that passed a first reading in the previous Knesset,” the PMO said on Wednesday. “The bill was prepared by the defense establishment…and submitted by then-defense minister Benny Gantz.”

The bill in question passed a first vote in 2022, when Gantz was defense minister in a government that shut out Netanyahu and his Likud party. The proposal would increase the number of Haredim enlisting by a few thousand per year, as opposed to the 66,000 who received exemptions in 2023.

“The prime minister called on all of the factions that supported the bill in the previous Knesset to join the proposal,” his office added, referring to most of the parties currently in the opposition.

Netanyahu’s announcement may have appeared to be an olive branch to Gantz, who has reportedly been looking for an exit date from the war cabinet for months amid political clashes with Netanyahu about enlistment, among other issues. 

Yet Gantz swiftly rejected Netanyahu’s proposal, saying that “Israel needs soldiers and not political tricks that tear apart the nation in wartime.”

Gantz explained that the outline the previous government passed was meant to be an intermediate bill to satisfy a court order while the government worked on a long-term plan.

“The intermediate bill that was proposed and that you want to pass now was not enough then and it is irrelevant today in the reality after Oct. 7,” Gantz said in comments directed at Netanyahu. “The time for talking is done. This is the time for action. I expect all the Haredi party leaders and rabbis…to vocally support services for the haredi public, as the prime minister claims in his statement.”

Israel Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman signaled his opposition to the bill. “Everyone must understand that the circumstances have changed completely,” he said. “The State of Israel is under fire from the north, south and east and Iran. This whole situation requires a mandatory enlistment law for everyone. Every young man and woman aged 18 – Jew, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Circassian – must report for military or civilian duty.”

Haredi lawmakers railed against the bill in 2022. After the Knesset vote at the time, senior United Torah Judaism lawmaker Moshe Gafni said that “according to halacha [Jewish law] we should rend our clothing [in mourning]. Shame! Why are they so happy? Because they managed to pass such a pathetic and humiliating bill?” 

Yet Netanyahu consulted with Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri – an observer in the war cabinet, despite not being a minister or Knesset member due to the terms of his plea deal – before making the move and updated the other Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, as well, according to Ma’ariv

In 2022, Gantz told the Knesset that his bill “recognizes the value of Torah study and understands that not all yeshiva students will serve tomorrow or at all,” and is meant to “increase the number of haredim who serve in the IDF and national-civilian service.” 

The bill sets annual target enlistment numbers that increase annually; the goal for 2024 is 1,973 out of over 66,000 eligible Haredi men. If at least 95% of the target number is not met, the government will reduce welfare payments to yeshiva students whose enlistment was deferred by as much as 80%. 

The proposal, if passed, would also have the IDF increase the number of designated Haredi units, including ones that teach skills to help with future employment. It also lowers the age from which Haredi men would be exempted from military service even if they are not full-time yeshiva students to 21, then gradually raises it to 23. 

The bill requires an unspecified number of committee meetings and two more votes in the Knesset plenary to become law.

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