Ministers approve Netanyahu proposal to adapt 2022 haredi conscription law (2024)

Attorney General: Not relevant to today's reality, lacks 'factual professional foundations'

By ELIAV BREUER
Updated: MAY 16, 2024 22:38
Ministers approve Netanyahu proposal to adapt 2022 haredi conscription law (1)

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue legislating an ultra-Orthodox (haredi) IDF conscription bill proposal from where it was left off in 2022, ignoring a legal opinion by the attorney-general that the proposal was irrelevant and therefore, “Not legally justifiable.”

The decision by the committee’s chair, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, to ignore the attorney-general’s opinion, highlighted the deep rift between the government and the body responsible for providing it with legal advice and services, which began at the onset of 2023 with the government’s controversial judicial reforms and continued in recent months over the issue of haredi conscription.

The vote came a day after Netanyahu announced that instead of legislating a new law to regulate haredi conscription, the government would proceed with a bill from the Lapid-Bennett government that passed its first reading on January 31, 2022.

The announcement came after Netanyahu, represented by Government Secretary Yossi Fuchs and representatives of the haredi parties, failed after weeks of negotiations to arrive at a compromise that would be acceptable by the haredi on one hand, and on the other hand, would not be struck down by the High Court of Justice due to its inequality.

Deputy attorney-general Gil Limon explained in a letter to Levin ahead of the ministerial committee’s vote on Thursday that the reality at the time that the bill was passed in 2022 was different than the post-October 7 one, and thereby, the bill lacked “updated factual professional foundations that are necessary to meet constitutional requirements.”

Limon wrote that approving the bill to continue its legislation in the Knesset thus was “not legally justifiable.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was not part of the decision to move forward with the 2022 bill, as Gallant has said numerous times that he will only agree to promote a bill that is accepted by all parts of the coalition. The fact that the decision to move forward with a bill that has deep implications for the IDF without the consent of the defense minister was also problematic, Limon argued.

Limon added that seeing as a ministerial committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday morning with the haredi conscription bill being the only item on the agenda, despite there being a meeting scheduled for Sunday with 27 items on the agenda, proved that its purpose was to buy time: Thursday (May 16) was the deadline set by the High Court for the government to prove that it was taking steps to draft haredi men, ahead of an important hearing on June 2. Speeding up the bill to meet a High Court deadline was another indication of the lack of due process, Limon wrote.

Not the Attorney-General's Office jurisdiction

The Attorney General’s Office refused last month to represent the government in the High Court case and granted the government permission to use private representation. The Prime Minister’s Office announced on May 9 that it had chosen lawyer Doron Taubman.

Fuchs said on Thursday evening that Taubman was working on a document to show the government’s progress to the High Court ahead of the midnight deadline, but by press time it had yet to be filed.

Levin criticized Limon during the committee’s meeting and argued that contrary to new laws, the Attorney General’s Office did not have the authority to rule that a decision to promote an existing law is not legally justifiable. Levin argued that the factual foundations of many existing laws change, and it was the Knesset’s role, not the attorney-general’s, to adapt the bill to a new reality. Fuchs reiterated this argument during an interview on Channel 14 News later on Thursday.

Ministers approve Netanyahu proposal to adapt 2022 haredi conscription law (2)

The haredi Knesset members in 2022 fiercely opposed the law proposal at the time, and the four haredi members of the ministerial committee were absent at the meeting. The ministers who were present were Levin, Education Minister Yoav Kisch (Likud), Environment Protection Minister Idit Silman (Likud), Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli (Likud), and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi.

Minister-without-Portfolio MK Benny Gantz’s National Unity party announced later on Thursday that party member and Minister-without-Portfolio Chili Tropper had appealed the ministerial committee’s decision. This requires that the decision be approved in the cabinet plenum, and could be approved as soon as Sunday.

Procedurally, the Knesset plenum will then vote to approve continuing the bill’s legislative process, after which it will head to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for preparation for second and third readings. However, the Knesset legal advisory team will first need to rule whether or not the Ministerial Committee vote was valid, as it was disqualified by the attorney-general. This procedural issue could itself eventually be appealed and determined in the High Court.

Gantz, who promoted the bill in 2022 as defense minister, said on Wednesday that the bill at the time was intended to serve as a basis for wider haredi conscription and that in any case, it was no longer relevant to Israel’s current security situation.

The law’s main provision was that at age 21 (instead of the current 26), haredi men could choose to join the IDF, the workforce, or a hybrid program combining national emergency and rescue service with vocational training. This would have allowed the haredi community to integrate into the employment market and acquire a profession, as well as increase the number of haredi recruits.

According to the proposal, the exemption age would rise to 22 after two years and then to 23 one year later. The bill established recruitment targets for yeshivot, according to which financial sanctions can be imposed on the yeshiva – but not on the young people who do not enlist – if they do not meet them. These targets were to rise gradually over 15 years, beginning at 15% enlistment of each haredi graduating class, and reaching 35% in 2036.

Chikli, who has publicly supported a significant rise in haredi conscription, wrote on X that he decided to approve the bill based on the assumption that it would be altered upon reaching the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC). The bill was “far from perfect,” but was based on the “important fundamentals of lowering the age of exemption and setting clear conscription targets.”

FADC Chair MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said on Wednesday that he would only approve a bill in his committee that was adapted to the real needs of the IDF.

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Ministers approve Netanyahu proposal to adapt 2022 haredi conscription law (2024)
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