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New Report Examines Legal Status of Military Draft and Enforcement in Israel

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Israel has gone through two national elections in 2019: the first on April 9, 2019, and the second merely five and a half months later on September 17, 2019. To date, no government has been formed and there is a possibility that a third election will take place. I have previously blogged about this unprecedented course of events, the Israeli parliamentary system, and the need to form a coalition government.

But what prompted the coalition crisis that ended the tenure of the 34th government prematurely on December 27, 2018, and brought about the first 2019 election?

According to the Israel Democracy Institute,

The formal explanation for the early Knesset dissolution was the governing coalition’s inability to obtain a majority to push forward legislation that would authorize a proposed solution for the never-ending issue of ultra-Orthodox [Haredi] military service. This was also the reason behind the failure of the coalition talks after the elections: Lieberman opposed any compromise regarding the draft law. [Link added.]  

The government ended its term in accordance with the Twentieth Knesset Dispersion Law, 5779-2018. This Law provided for the dissolution of the 20th Knesset (Israel’s parliament) before the end of its term of office, and for elections for the 21st Knesset to be held on April 9. (Id.) Subsequently, after negotiations to form a coalition government failed, the Twenty-first Knesset Dispersion Law, 5779-2019 was passed on May 29, and new elections were scheduled for September 17, 2019.

A graphical representation of the number of defrments from 1948 to 2015 showing steady increase with spike in 2011. Additional details available in spreadsheet download from
Source: Susan Taylor, Law Library of Congress, based on information contained in Asaf Malchi, The “People’s Army?”, Israel Democracy Inst. (Oct. 16, 2018).

A November 2019 Law Library of Congress report, Israel: Military Draft Law and Enforcement, provides legal background on general conscription law in Israel and on exemptions from the draft that have traditionally been extended to two main groups: Israeli Arabs and Haredi Jews. The report lays out a chronology of the evolution of what is referred to above as “the never-ending issue of ultra-Orthodox military service” until the date of publication. This report updates a March 2012 Law Library of Congress report, Israel: Supreme Court Decision Invalidating the Law on Haredi Military Draft Postponement, which analyzes different arrangements and legislative attempts to regulate the issue, culminating with the February 2012 decision by Israel’s Supreme Court that found the existing law at that time unconstitutional (HCJ 6298/07 Ressler v. the Knesset).

In a 2017 decision, the Supreme Court overturned the latest amendment law that had governed the draft deferments of Haredi at that time, which often resulted in full exemptions. The Court reached its decision based on a determination that the law harmed the principle of equality and violated the constitutional right to dignity of those who “were obliged to serve in the military.” (HC 1877/14 Movement for Quality Government in Israel v. Knesset, para. 42.) To allow time to prepare for the consequences of the cancellation of the arrangement established by the law, the Court voided it effective one year from the date of the judgment, namely, from September 12, 2018.

A timeline from 1945-2017 of the number of deferrals and legal advancements. Spreadsheet link holds more information:
Source: Susan Taylor, Law Library of Congress, based on information contained in Asaf Malchi, The “People’s Army?”, Israel Democracy Inst. (Oct. 16, 2018). To see in better resolution, please click on image.

A new draft bill providing different draft arrangements for Haredi men was introduced by the government on July 2, 2018, but has not passed. (Draft Bill for Integration of Yeshiva Students (Defense Service Amendment No. 25), 5778-2018, Hatsaot Hok Hamemshala (Government Bills) No. 1238 p. 1005.) The September 12, 2018, deadline determined by the Court has therefore passed with no new legislation adopted on the subject.

At present, in the absence of any law regulating the Haredi’s exemption from military service, it appears that they are legally subject to the draft. As military draft enforcement is one of the issues awaiting resolution in ongoing negotiations for the formation of a new coalition government, developments are expected in the near future.

We invite you to review the information provided in the November 2019 as well as the March 2012 reports on Israeli conscription law and enforcement. You can search the Current Legal Topics or Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports under terms such as “Armed Forces” and “Elections and Campaign Finance” for additional reports from the Law Library on similar topics. For legal news from Israel, you may search the Law Library’s Global Legal Monitor. To receive alerts when new reports or articles are published, you can subscribe to email updates and RSS feed (click the “subscribe” button on the Law Library’s website).

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