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Gov't in danger: Gallant vows not to sign new IDF draft law without broad agreement

The defense minister’s move could dismantle the gov’t coalition within weeks

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits the northern border, Nov. 11, 2023 (Photo: Ariel Hermoni/IMoD)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed not to support a new law intended to end the exemptions for drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF if it won’t receive the full support of every part of the government coalition.

“Without the agreement of all parts of the coalition, the security system under my leadership will not submit this law,” Gallant said during a televised press briefing on Wednesday.

This move puts the government in concrete danger, as Gallant, in effect, created a deadline until April 1 for the coalition, including the National Unity party that joined in October, to reach a compromise solution agreed upon by all sides.

Ultra-Orthodox men have so far been exempt from being drafted into the Israeli military. According to current Israeli law, they are eligible to receive stipends for studying in yeshivas (religious schools)/

After the law expired in 2023, the government extended it temporarily until March 31. Last week, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the High Court that once the law expires, ultra-Orthodox men will need to be drafted and the stipends can no longer be paid.

If this is the case, the ultra-Orthodox parties currently serving in the government are widely expected to leave their positions, which will trigger new elections. A source from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism political party told the Times of Israel: "If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to remain prime minister by summertime, he must get a conscription law approved in the Knesset."

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz is leading current polls by a wide margin if elections were to be held today/

The former minister of defense has been rumored to be looking for an opportunity to leave the government without losing face these past several weeks.

Gallant’s conditions on signing a new law could now provide the ideal opportunity to bring about new elections without Gantz being seen as the immediate cause.

Gantz and National Unity party lawmaker Gadi Eisenkot welcomed Gallant’s announcement but it was met with immediate backlash from ultra-Orthodox parties and vague threats that the issue could bring down the government.

The controversial issue of ultra-Orthodox military service exemptions has returned to the forefront of domestic politics in recent weeks amid Israel's preparations for a possible war with Hezbollah.

The IDF recently announced plans to prolong mandatory service for IDF soldiers and delay retirement for some reservists, while also raising the number of days they must serve annually.

Gallant said there was a “real and direct” need to lengthen the service of mandatory and reserve IDF soldiers but that “the war has proven that everyone must enter under the stretcher.”

Manpower shortages in the army amid fighting in Gaza and on the northern border required the contribution of all sectors of society.

“We cherish and appreciate those who dedicate their lives to learning the Torah. However, without physical existence, there is no spiritual existence. Our security challenges demonstrate that everyone must bear the burden of service. All parts of society,” Gallant said.

The issue of “sharing the burden” was a “national challenge for 75 years,” but Israel was facing a challenge the likes of which it had not faced in 75 years – and now was the time to make unprecedented decisions, Gallant stressed.

According to the IDF chief, a new proposal for a bill that would end the blanket exemption given to ultra-Orthodox Israelis (Haredim) should “only be promoted with the consent of all of the parties in the coalition, including the Haredi parties themselves.”

The defense minister called on Netanyahu to forge a joint effort in the coalition and potentially gain the support of the opposition, to bring forth an agreed-upon plan for Haredi IDF service.

He added that any plan that was accepted by all parties in the coalition would be acceptable to him.

Past Netanyahu governments have struggled to come to a consensus on legislation dealing with ultra-Orthodox military service since a 2017 High Court decision that determined blanket military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to be discriminatory and illegal.

Attempts to draft legislation have failed to bring agreement between mainstream lawmakers who want a more equal sharing of the burden of military service and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties that demand the exemptions continue.  

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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