A law enabling the IDF to crack down on women who defer army service fraudulently “for religious reasons” has become a political hot potato and may cause a coalition crisis.
Coalition partners Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) have said they will be voting against a government-approved law that will enable the IDF to send investigators to check whether young women who do not join the army claiming they were religious are indeed leading a religious life.
If they are not, the IDF will be able to draft them immediately.
While army service is compulsory in Israel for men and women, about 40 per cent of 18-year-old women do not serve in the military for reasons of “religion and conscience”. This is a higher number than the proportion of religious and strictly Orthodox in the general Israeli population.
This year, the IDF’s Personnel Branch launched a pilot project in which private investigators proved that dozens of women who claimed to be religious were not leading a religious lifestyle.
These revelations led to a private proposal in the Knesset for a law that would require women to undergo the same checks that men go through in order to be exempted from military service. Among other requirements, the new law would not exempt women who study in non-religious institutes. It would also allocate additional funds to the IDF for private investigators.
Pressure from the religious parties caused the government to tone down the proposed law, and last week the government’s legislative committee authorised it.
The proposal, however, is still not acceptable to Shas and UTJ, who say they will vote against the law when it is brought to the plenum, although they are members of the coalition.
The Charedi community has historically been against the enlistment of women to the IDF and while women of this community are not at risk of being drafted, they oppose any moves to tighten the recruitment law as a matter of principle. Senior members of both parties said that they would try to convince Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to abandon the proposal — or else force a coalition crisis.
Criticism of the law came also from secular quarters. MK Yisrael Hason (Kadima), who proposed the original law, said that “it is madness to throw the IDF into this debate. We haven’t decided in 60 years who is a Jew, how can we expect the army to decide now who is religious?”