Ministers Galant (r) and Smotrich (l)
Ministers Galant (r) and Smotrich (l)צילום: יונתן זינדל, פלאש 90

A plan being drawn up by the Israeli government to amend the country’s draft law and protect draft deferments for yeshiva students will be passed as a temporary, emergency measure, Kan Reshet Bet reported Monday morning.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Coalition members to discuss the new legislation, pushed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, after the defense establishment okayed the planned changes, which Smotrich calls "a new social contract for equal sharing of Israel's burden." That burden, he explained, now exists simultanously in both the economic and defense spheres, as at present, men who elect to obain draft deferrals for Torah study must remain in yeshiva unless they do IDF service and cannot join the work force or begin career training until the age of 26. His plan separates the two factors, concentrating on the economic sphere.

Under the proposal now under consideration, the army would lower the final exemption age for the draft from 26 to 21, leaving a draft age window of three years: 18 to 21. The plan would also shorten the minimum mandatory service period, while creating incentives for soldiers in key positions to remain on for longer.

Defense Minister Yoav Galant has called for the draft age to be lowered to 23, rather than 21.

The move is aimed at curtailing the use of annual draft deferments for yeshiva students, with the goal of encouraging young haredi men to join the workforce, or to study in higher education programs or vocational school.

The plan would resolve long-standing issues regarding Israel’s draft law, after the Supreme Court repeatedly struck down amendments enshrining draft deferments for yeshiva students, while leaving blanket exemptions for most of the Arab sector in place.

In 2002, based on the recommendation of the Tal Committee, the Knesset passed the “Tal Law,” maintaining draft deferments while encouraging haredi men to seek careers.

The law was struck down by the high court a decade later, prompting the next government, led by Netanyahu but relying on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction, to pass a new amendment in 2014 enabling the government to limit draft deferments.

Haredi lawmakers succeeded in passing another amendment in 2017, removing most of the 2014 law’s changes, but the Supreme Court again intervened, throwing out the law in 2017.

Since then, passage of a new law protecting draft deferments has become a top priority for haredi lawmakers, along with some version of the Override Clause, to enable the government to overturn a future Supreme Court ruling against the draft law.

With the judicial overhaul plan temporarily frozen, however, the government is reportedly eyeing a possible alternative; passing the draft law amendment as an emergency measure which would automatically expire after ten years, in the hope that the temporary nature of the law will discourage the court from striking it down.

The government is under pressure to pass some replacement for the 2017 law, with haredi lawmakers indicating they will not back the state budget bill before a draft law amendment is passed.

The government must pass a budget law by May 29th or face immediate dissolution.