Israel: Military Draft Law & Enforcement

We all know that the protection of borders and territorial space has been of profound importance since man learnt to settle down. However, some countries adopt unique measures and laws for the same. The military of Israel has the authority to draft anyone, qualified and above the age of 18 be it a man or woman, under the Defense Service Law [Consolidated Version] 5746-1986[1]. It also has penalties of 2-5 years of imprisonment for draft avoidance offences. There are some exceptions for girls as specified under the law.


Even though the military draft applies to all the citizens of Israel, there has been a significant drop in the rate of conscription.


Classification of Conscriptions

For males of age 18-26 years, the drafting is done generally for 32 months of military service, and for 26 months if they are of the age group of 27-29 years of age or a doctor between 30- 34 years of age[2].

For females of age 18-26 or if she is a doctor of the age group 27-34 years, she must generally serve for 24 months[3].

Immigrants have to serve in the military for a specified period. A male immigrant has to serve for 20 months after reaching 27 years of age. Whereas a female immigrant is drafted for 18 months after attaining the age of 27.

Exemptions from the Drafting Process

There are some exceptions to the military drafting process under the law. All the female recruits who are pregnant or are mothers or have the eligibility for exemption based on “reasons of conscience or reasons connected with [their] religious family background” or “religious conviction”[4].

Also, two communal groups have always relished the immunities since the beginning of this draft: The Haredi Jews and the Israeli Arabs. This exemption of the Haredi Jews has over time become a controversial topic in Israel. The Supreme Court has already held that this immunity of the Haredi students is a violation of equality and hence, unconstitutional. The constitutionality of the exemption of the Israeli Arabs is yet to be decided.

At present, this deferral is one of the central issues that have to be decided by the Netanyahu Government.


Draft Law Concerning the Haredi Community

The Haredi community constituted 10.1% of the Israeli population, as of September 26, 2019[5]. Haredi Jews have customarily enjoyed a military draft deferment coming about in de facto exception from serving in the army. They say their study of the Torah is vital for the continued survival of the Jewish people, this drafting would stray the young men from their religious path.

The History behind this Exception

This exemption was based on an arrangement adopted by David Ben-Gurion, who was the first Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence, after the holocaust of the Yeshivas in Europe. The goal of this deal was the prevention of the Yeshiva refugees in the nation as their children were being drafted into the army.[6]

In 1998, the Supreme Court observed that the Yeshivas have started thriving in Israel, and there is no need to worry about the disappearance of this particular community due to the draft of Yeshiva’s youth. This in turn led to the dissolution of the objective of the law.[7] Now, this decreasing percentage of the Haredi population in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) became a topic of national importance. Numerous public debates, reports by the State Comptroller & the Israel Defence Forces, ministerial and parliamentary committee hearings were done on this issue[8]. In 2012, Israel’s Supreme Court finally invalidated this law that formalized exemptions for Yeshiva students, ruling that it contradicted the principle of equality.

The present situation of the law

In 2017, the High Court of Israel concluded that the exemption of Haredi Jews from conscription is unconstitutional. It demanded that the government bring in new legislation or begin conscripting the Haredi men.

However, the government has been demanding and has been receiving an extension ever since, through the Defence Minister. Under the claim that it is still in the process of drafting the law. However, this January he refused to give any extensions, still, the government demanded an extension until the elections. This request has been accepted and the next deadline to pass the law on this matter is July 6, 2021.[9]

Conclusion

Exempting an ever-increasing segment of the population from the draft impacts the socio-economic structure of the nation. Not only that, but the drafting will also benefit the unemployed Haredi population of Israel.

The military Draft enforcement is still one of the major issues awaiting legislation by the Netanyahu Government. Advancements in the law are anticipated in the near future for the betterment of society.

[1] Defense Service Law [Consolidated Version] 5746-1986, §§ 1 & 13, Sefer HaHukim [SH] (official gazette), No. 1170 p. 107 (as amended) (in Hebrew) [2] Defense Service Law [Consolidated Version] § 15 [3] Defense Service Law [Consolidated Version] § 16 [4] Defense Service Law [Consolidated Version] §§ 39(c) & 40(a) [5] Press Release, Israel Cent. Bureau of Stats., Israel in Figures – Rosh Hashanah Selected Annual Data 2019 (Sept. 26, 2019), https://perma.cc/J7ZS-25TR. [6] Ruth Levush, Israel: Supreme Court Decision Invalidating the Law on Haredi Military Draft Postponement, Law Library of Congress (updated Mar. 2012), https://perma.cc/9DU8-4R2Y. Further developments are provided below. [7] HC 3267/97 Rubinstein v. Minister of Defense, 52(5) PD 481, 491 (1998); English translation available at State of Israel: the Judicial Authority (IJA), https://perma.cc/Z2B4-E5RR. [8] Ruth Levush, supra note 12; for a statistical report on the Haredi enlistment, see Jerusalem Inst. on Pol'y Res. & Israel Democracy Inst., Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Society in Israel 2017 (Abstract) 22, fig. 13: Ultra-Orthodox Enlisting in the IDF or Serving in National Service(bar chart), https://perma.cc/3HBV-FQGN; see also addendum to this report, Major Developments Regarding Military Draft and Deferment Exemptions (chart). [9] Staff, TOI. “High Court Delays Issue of Ultra-Orthodox Conscription until after Election.” The Times of Israel, 9 Feb. 2021, www.timesofisrael.com/high-court-delays-issue-of-ultra-orthodox-conscription-until-after-election/.

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