Despite Election Spotlight, Netanyahu May Resist Change in Haredi Draft Exemption

Premier Still Needs Support of Ultra-Orthodox Parties

Status Quo: Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure to end the exemption that ultra-Orthodox men enjoy from serving in the Israel military. But he’s also seeking the support of Haredi parties, meaning little may change.
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Status Quo: Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure to end the exemption that ultra-Orthodox men enjoy from serving in the Israel military. But he’s also seeking the support of Haredi parties, meaning little may change.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 26, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
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Israel’s recent election was dominated by discusion of how to integrate ultra-Orthodox young men into the military. But Israelis are now facing up to the possibility that in practical terms, nothing will change on this front during the new Knesset session.

In the months leading up to the election, as calls grew for an end to Haredi men’s exemption from national service, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that his plan will not be “an empty move,” made for publicity’s sake. But when his latest proposal became public in mid-February, a chorus of critics said it was exactly that.

There was a moment, last spring, when it looked as if a gradual Haredi draft was imminent. The ruling Likud had brought Kadima, then the largest Knesset party, into the coalition, and Netanyahu convened a committee to formulate a strategy. Kadima lawmaker Yohanan Plesner chaired the committee, and Likud had the political clout to pass his recommendations.

But Likud-Kadima tensions presented obstacles, Netanyahu disbanded the committee, and Kadima left the government and then found itself reduced to a two-seat faction after the recent elections. Plesner, the man who had looked poised to usher in the Haredi draft, no longer had his committee or even his Knesset seat.

Speaking to the Forward on February 19, Plesner said that the new plan is “the Tal Law exactly,” referring to the legislation that previously exempted Haredi youth from the military until it expired this past summer. The only real difference, he claimed, is the “smokescreens that are trying to disguise the fact that it’s a repetition of the argument behind the Tal Law.”

Many voters snubbed Netanyahu and put their hopes for a Haredi draft in Yesh Atid, the new centrist party that catapulted itself into the Knesset, as the second-largest faction, largely because of its campaigning on this issue. But contrary to most voters’ desire for immediate action, Yesh Atid’s platform offers Haredim a five-year grace period before any draft takes effect.


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