Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

The Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday instructed the Israel Defense Forces to immediately draft 3,000 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students beginning July 1, following the High Court of Justice’s ruling earlier in the day that the government is obligated to conscript such men into military service.

In a letter addressed to the ministries of defense, finance, and education, the Attorney General’s Office also ordered the government to refrain from transferring funds previously allocated to yeshivas for students who were studying in lieu of military service, in accordance with the court’s decision, telling the ministries they can no longer provide such support in any format.

The instructions came hours after a landmark High Court decision that determined for the first time that ultra-Orthodox men are obligated to perform military service, since the previous legislative and administrative arrangements allowing for their blanket exemptions have now expired.

“The security establishment is obligated to act immediately to implement the ruling to draft yeshiva students who are obligated to perform military service, in accordance with the needs of the army and its capabilities, and in accordance with its commitment to draft 3,000 recruits,” Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon told the army in a letter to its legal adviser.

There are currently some 63,000 Haredi yeshiva students who, under the ruling, are obligated to perform military service, although the IDF told the court that it could realistically draft just 3,000 in the 2024 enlistment year, which began in June.

Limon pointed out that the 3,000 Haredi men who now need to be drafted must come in addition to the average number of such men who have enlisted in recent years, which the government put at 1,800 in its submission to the court.

Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon attends a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee hearing on the government’s bill to limit the courts’ use of the unreasonableness doctrine, July 4, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

His letter said that the military must also present a conscription plan to fully exploit the draft potential from the ultra-Orthodox community and further increase the number of conscripts above the 3,000 figure “in light of the present needs of the army and in order to advance equality in the burden of military service

Additionally, Limon stated in his letter to the ministers that under the terms of the ruling they are banned from transferring any funds “directly or indirectly” to yeshivas who have until now received funding per student who has been studying in those institutions in lieu of military service.

The order stems from the court’s ruling that the funding allocated by law for yeshiva students studying instead of performing military service was directly connected to the law allowing for blanket military service exemptions.

Since that law has expired, there is no longer any legal framework for the provision of those funds.

Limon added that this ban meant that the funding cannot be tacked on to other financial support programs enjoyed by yeshiva students, reflecting the Attorney General’s Office’s concern that the government could seek to circumvent the ruling by reallocating the funds through different support programs.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the primary petitioning organizations in the case, said that the Attorney General’s Office’s instructions were “an important first step,” but that the scale of Haredi enlistment should be “substantially broadened” and that all 63,000 students must be drafted immediately.

Later on Tuesday, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who heads the Knesset committee that is currently deliberating the government’s ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill, issued a statement saying the legislation will only advance “with broad agreement.”

“Or the law won’t pass at all,” he declared.

According to an ultra-Orthodox activist involved in promoting enlistment, at least 10,000 Haredi men are exempted annually from military service under false pretenses and should enlist per the High Court of Justice ruling.

“It should start with those exempted who only say they attend yeshivot [but actually don’t attend],” Eliyahu Glatzenberg, co-founder of the Achvat Torah nonprofit, told The Times of Israel following the High Court of Justice’s ruling.

Definitions of who is Haredi vary, complicating statistics. Shomrim, an investigative journalism platform, says that by the most liberal definition, only about 1,000 Haredim enlisted in 2019 and 2020, about half of the levels in the years 2013-2018. Statistics for 2021-2023 are similar, an IDF representative told a Knesset committee in February.

“If the 10,000-odd wrongfully exempted Haredim are targeted, there’d be more understanding of it by Haredi community leaders than if the army conscripted actual yeshiva students,” says Glatzenberg.

Canaan Lidor contributed to this report.

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