Nine Supreme Court justices held a hearing on the Equal Burden of Service law Sunday, over a petition from the Yesh Atid party against amendments to the law made late last year.
Among the attendees: Supreme Court President, Justice Miriam Naor; Deputy Chief Justice Elyakim Rubinstein; Justice Esther Hayot; Justice Hanan Meltzer; Justice Yitzhak Amit; Justice Noam Solberg; Justice Uri Shoham; Justice Neal Handel; and Justice Uzi Fogelman.
State representative Attorney Dana Briskman presented the government's position that the current law – post-amendment – provides a decent compromise between the demands of the haredi community while also providing an increase in haredi recruitment.
Too many changes?
The November 2015 amendment updated a 2014 law which would have enforced the nationwide mandatory draft for the haredi population, but extended a grace period to eight years and allows for exemptions for the haredi community at large after that time.
Under the previous government, the IDF draft – which is mandatory for all Israelis over the age of 18, except for Arab and haredi citizens who generally do not serve – was introduced to the haredi population in a series of stages. The current stage: a "trial" period meant to increase the haredi draft by degrees.
Now, however, this "trial" period will end in 2017, Channel 2 reports – and full enforcement of the draft has been postponed until 2020.
A secondary "trial period," meant to replace the first, will now be enacted from 2020-2023, wherein the haredi community will be expected to follow the law vis-a-vis the draft – but criminal sanctions will not be enforced in the event draft goals are not met. The Defense Minister serving at that time will be tasked with handling the next steps in the event that becomes the case.
Several demands of the law have not changed, however, including a requirement that the number of haredi soldiers drafted increases every year, with a target goal of 15,000 by 2020.
Behind the new laws were Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud), who worked together with representatives of the haredi parties to achieve a compromise to far tougher laws enacted under the 19th Knesset.
The explanatory note behind the amendment explained that the previous law evoked strong opposition among the haredi community, and threatened to amputate a positive process that began before – with the adoption of a gradual and steady increase in the number of recruits expected for the group, "which occurred anyway without the destructive threat of [mandatory] conscription dangling over their heads."
'Success' – or ambiguity?
"There is success in this law," Briskman insisted. "We think the court should not intervene."
"If the starting point here was the Equality of Burden, we have nothing to claim," she continued. "The law now harms the idea of an equal burden."
She added, though, that a more universal version of the law – the Defense Service Law – will apply in 2023.
"You have to remember that the law is temporary and there is an interim period that aims to promote equality."
Naor noted that the response implicates that there was never a status quo vis-a-vis the haredi draft, and that the core of any arrangement would not be permanent. Indeed, she said, the quota itself for the haredi draft remains at the discretion of the Defense Minister and the government itself.
"This is a complex situation," Briskman responded. "This law constitutes a temporary order."
Naor then noted that the government has not yet truly reached a stage wherein there is a full haredi draft.
Meltzer added that, since the cancellation of the haredi-exempting Tal Law in 2012, "there was a rise in haredi IDF recruitment."
Briskman insisted, however, that haredi draft rates had been rising consistently since 2007, and urged the justices "not to enter a conflict with haredi society."
Handel noted that the law defines "haredi" widely, with the definition of a "haredi IDF recruit" as any Israeli of recruitment age who had spent two years or more in a haredi school. This definition could fit the haredi national-religious community, he said – or, indeed, the thousands of Israelis who were raised haredi but leave the fold during their teenage years.
"You've established a monster," Fogelman said. "You've provided motivation and created social pressures without a stick [i.e. enforcement – ed.]. This soft approach will see us not meet recruitment goals if you do not act to reduce the subsidy [for haredi draft-dodgers – ed.]."
The justices, collectively, criticizes the removal of sanctions dictated in the amendments as a petty political move.
"Maybe in 2023 we find ourselves in the same situation," Naor noted, to which Briskman replied that "there are no guarantees."
Hayot asked if yeshiva subsidies could be reduced to help encourage the draft, but Briskman noted that that move is strictly within the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry.
"A law without sanctions is purely a political law," Shoham dismissed.
The majority of justices condemned the amendments for having "difficult to understand" wording and leaving too much room for ambiguity.