Gantz: IDF wants haredi enlistment, will protect their religious identity

A division has formed on the c'tee, between members who favor using economic sanctions to persuade haredi men to enlist, and those who don't.

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November 27, 2013 18:54
2 minute read.
Chief of Staff Gantz and MK Ayelet Shaked at Knesset’s special committee on haredi national service.

Benny Gantz and Ayelet Shaked 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz praised haredi soldiers on Wednesday, and said that the army wants more ultra-Orthodox men to serve, while emphasizing the importance of helping them maintain their religious identity.

Gantz was speaking during a hearing of the Knesset’s special committee on haredi national service enlistment, during which it was also announced that the Finance Ministry had come to an agreement with the IDF to provide the requisite funds for greater numbers of haredi soldiers.

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All IDF personnel are entitled to additional income subsidies if they are married and have children.

The current bill for haredi enlistment proposes an enlistment age of 21 for haredi men, by which time many are married and have children.

The haredi political and spiritual leadership insist that the enlistment of members of the community be delayed until at least this age because the late teens and early twenties are seen as a critical time for ultra-Orthodox men to cement their identity and belonging within haredi society.

“The IDF supports haredi service,” Gantz said during the hearing. “We’re talking about wonderful people, and everywhere [in the army] that they have been integrated their contribution has been noticeable.”

The chief of staff emphasized the importance of ensuring that haredi men enlisting to the IDF be able to maintain their identity and haredi lifestyle while serving, praised them for their intelligence and noted that haredi recruits had already made a contribution to the army.

Speaking during the session, committee chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said that the panel was coming to the end of its work and spoke out against what she called an ideal bill in favor of one with terms that can be implemented.

“Many have failed on this issue, but I feel that if we fail this time, if we pass a law that engraves on Mount Olympus [these kind of] declarative statements, but it cannot be implemented de facto, then we will widen the divide between broader Israeli society and the haredim in a way in which it will be doubtful if it will be possible to reunite the two,” Shaked said.

A sharp division has opened on the committee between most of the members, who favor using economic sanctions to persuade haredi men to enlist, and Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, who, with the backing of his party, is insisting on stipulating criminal sanctions for anyone refusing to serve, as is the case for all other Jewish men eligible for IDF service.

Currently the bill stipulates only criminal sanctions and not economic measures.

“I request from everyone, especially the committee members, to understand the responsibility placed upon us and to do everything in their power that the law which comes out of this room will lead to unity and the maximum [possible] integration, and not, God forbid, to division and schism,” Shaked urged.

But Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman said that the bill was commensurate with the vision described by the chief of staff.

“The law in its current format provides for an increase in haredi soldiers while protecting those who are truly studying Torah day and night,” Lipman said. “The law will only cause societal divisions if the haredi rabbinic and political leadership decide to turn it into something divisive. If they would proactively send the yeshiva boys who don’t study day and night to the army, there would be no point of conflict, and no one would seek to draft the boys who sincerely study day and night.”


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