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Crunch Time for Haredi Draft? Try 2013

Today was supposed to be the start of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his “historic change” for Israel. But in reality, everything stayed the same.

At midnight, the law that exempted Haredi men from national service expired. Which means that over the coming weeks, legally speaking at least, Haredi 18-year-olds are liable to be drafted just like all other Jewish 18-year-olds.

Not only that, but all Haredi men who deferred service in previous years and who are still reliant on the Tal Law for their exemption — some 54,000 — are also liable for the draft.

This situation has arisen because government attempts to institute a new law have failed due to disagreements on its details inside the government. The process seemed to be going well a few weeks ago, after Kadima, the largest Knesset party, joined the coalition promising to find a creative solution with the ruling Likud party. But it then objected to Likud’s plans and walked out of the ruling coalition on July 17, just 70 days after agreeing to join, and with another coalition party, Yisrael Beiteinu, also sparring with Likud on the subject, the legislative process hit a dead end.

The government’s hope was that a new law in place by today would outline a plan for a gradual Haredi draft, with certain concessions to make it palatable to Haredim like an older draft age and exemptions for some talented yeshiva students. When it comes to the Haredi draft “we must enact it gradually and in a way that does not lead to a rift in the nation,” Netanyahu said.

In the absence of new legislation, the default legal situation comes in to effect, meaning that Haredim are meant to be included in the draft. Netanyahu has tried to spin this reversion to an old law as progress, telling Channel 2 television last night: “Starting tomorrow, there’s a new law about equal service. The Israeli military will decide whom to draft, how many to draft — and it will draft.”

Many international media outlets saw such comments and reported that a mass Haredi draft is imminent.

But all Netanyahu was really saying was that having failed to settle the matter in Knesset he’s passing it to the Defense Ministry, which knows well that the army isn’t ready for a draft of thousands of Haredim that it hasn’t been expecting. Jobs aren’t waiting for them, and the infrastructure to accommodate their special religious needs isn’t in place.

And so unsurprisingly the Defense Ministry indicated that, while it aims over time to increase Haredi service, it won’t be issuing blanket call-up notices to Haredim over the coming days. With the ball bounced to its court from Knesset’s court it is pushing off a decision on who to draft. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has “instructed the IDF to submit, within a month, a practical proposal to implement the [draft] law for the young ultra-Orthodox population, until the Knesset authorizes a new law to permanently settle the issue.”

So, no mass call up in the next month, then a temporary plan that is likely to focus on the impracticality of a major influx of soldiers in the fall and give de-facto extension to the exemption. Then, wrangling over Knesset legislation which drags on until elections — or maybe even prompts them.

August 1 may yet prove crunch time for the question of the Haredi draft. Meaning August, 1 2013.

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