Haredim in the IDF
Haredim in the IDFYaakov Nehumi, Flash90

A month has passed since the Supreme Court demanded an update from the government on the progress of the long-awaited Draft Law that is supposed to resolve the question of haredi service in the IDF. Only now has the Defense Ministry issued an official response to the demand – asking for yet another extension, this time of six months.

The haredi website Behadrey Haredim reports that the Defense Ministry, by its own admission, has made no significant progress whatsoever on drafting the legislation. The Prime Minister and MKs from the haredi parties are furious at the continued delays, but the Defense Ministry is protesting that due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, it has been entirely preoccupied with other issues – “the only legislation that has been addressed during this period has been that related to exceptional cases that could not be delayed.”

In addition, the Ministry offered as an excuse the “far-reaching developments in the Middle East which have given rise to a number of pressing security issues that have had to be dealt with in recent weeks. In the last month alone, the Defense Minister was obligated to make two urgent trips to the United States,” it added.

Therefore, “Since the Supreme Court made its request for an update on September 16, 2020, no significant progress has been made with regard to this legislation.” The Ministry’s response also noted that, “There is certainly no need to elaborate on the complexity of the issue and its social and political ramifications. Therefore, it is the intention of the Defense Minister to establish an inter-ministerial committee to examine the plans extensively and produce a long-term outline that will conform to the evolving situation, in order to provide a solution for the needs of the entire population under the rubric of universal national service.”

The Defense Ministry is asking for the deadline for a new law to be in place to be extended until April 25, 2021. In response, the Prime Minister’s Office issued an official statement to the Court noting its disagreement with the Defense Ministry on the issue, noting that, “The Prime Minister’s Office states that its position is that the legislation should be completed at the earliest time possible, and that an extension of half a year is excessive.”

The haredi political parties have also criticized the request, seeing in it a political ploy most likely backed by opposition parties Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, both of which have previously used the issue of the Draft Law to drum up support. Shas leader Aryeh Deri was already fuming at Gantz’s delay two months ago, when he accused the Defense Minister and Blue and White party leader of “holding the Torah world hostage” while he refused to come to a decision on the composition of the new Draft Law.

Either way, it appears unlikely that the Supreme Court will accede to the full six months Gantz is asking for, although events may quite likely intervene in the form of snap elections called within weeks if the state budget for 2021 is not approved on schedule.