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IDF chief says 'we must defend Israel' in response to open letter by Israeli youth to refuse enlistment

Refusals to serve and ultra-Orthodox Draft Law threaten ideal of a People’s Army

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks at a military ceremony, Sept. 6, 2023. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi clearly stated that every Israeli who is eligible to serve must defend the nation.

Halevi’s remarks were made at a military ceremony on Wednesday, following the publication of an open letter from a group of around 200 high school students who wrote that they intend to refuse enlistment in the IDF to protest the judicial reforms.

“For the youth who are considering not enlisting, there is a clear statement: We will always live here, in the State of Israel. Because of this, we must defend [it].”

He also called to maintain the People’s Army model.

"The State of Israel must, in order to maintain its security, continue to support the People's Army model, which requires the recruitment of as many segments of the Israeli population as possible,” Halevi affirmed.

On Sunday, a group of 12th-grade students and alumni from Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium shared an open letter refusing to enlist.

One of the students made a video statement ahead of the letter’s unveiling, saying, “We must stop the judicial overhaul and we must stop taking part in a military that serves settlements and the occupation.”

Small groups of students have issued similar statements refusing enlistment over judicial reform concerns.

At the same time, the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition are demanding a Draft Law that will exempt the majority of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students.

According to a report in Israel Hayom, a senior Haredi leader recently told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “We are not interested in whether or not there will be a reform - on the Draft Law, we will not compromise.”

On Wednesday, Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf warned that the Draft Law must be passed during the upcoming winter Knesset session, or else the coalition is in danger.  

Heritage Minister Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu disagreed with Halevi’s call for a People’s Army during an interview on Thursday morning.

“Even if every Israeli gets drafted there will never be equality in the IDF,” Eliyahu stated. “We have to release anyone who does not want to serve, turn the military into a professional one.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid supported Halevi’s call for a People’s Army, saying “everyone must serve, without exception.”

Lapid has previously spoken out against refusals to serve. In July, he told 103FM radio: “We have one army, and it’s forbidden that there be refusal.”

However, he has also said that calling refusal to serve insubordination is a mistake.

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

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