Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday presented the government's new "equalizing the burden" legislation, in which only 1,800 Haredim will be exempted from service.

According to the new draft plan, Haredim will be able to postpone their national service for three years during which they will still receive state funding for their Torah studying. Following those three years, only 1,800 will receive exemptions from service and continue to be funded, the rest will have to choose between IDF service or civil service.

Bennett made his comments at a conference in Ramla on a number of challenges to balancing Israel's Jewish and democratic character, including equalizing the burden of serving in the IDF and national service.

Most of Bennett's talk focused on explaining the principles of the legislation that he backed and which the government is expected to take up in the near future – he estimated its passage to be possibly within four months.

He said that the three purposes of the law would be to: get Hardeim working, get them involved in military-national service and strengthen the world of Torah study.

Bennett broke down the potential law into two phases, with phase one being the first four years when Haredim aged 22 and above would be encouraged to join the workforce.

Phase two would include drafting most of Haredim under the age of 22 into the military-national service, but for the 1,800 most talented Haredim in Torah study, paying them even more money than is currently paid.

Bennett added that the state was not telling anyone that they could not study Torah, only that the state's financial support for such study would be limited to three years for those Haredim not selected to be part of the elite 1,800 per year.

Bennett also spoke directly and emphatically to employers, telling them, "Don't be suckers, hire Haredim and Arabs."

The economics and trade minister said that he expected 33,000 Haredim to be entering the workforce as part of new "equalizing the burden" legislation which would bring about a "revolution" on a number of fronts.

He also gave his new expected Haredi workforce advice, suggesting that they "should not became lawyers and accountants, but go into hi-tech and engineering."

Senior national religious leader Rabbi Dov Lior expressed support for Bennett's plan for haredi enlistment. “This is not a decree, they want to arrange things properly,” Lior said, speaking at the Ramla conference. “These are not the decrees of Tsar Nicolas, time will tell and things will settle down,” he added.

Lior, municipal chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hevron and from the conservative wing of the national religious community, expressed concern earlier this year over any the implementation of reforms that would prevent full time yeshiva student from continuing their studies if they so wish.

And during his speech at the conference, Lior reiterated his support for ongoing state funding for full time yeshiva students devoted to their studies.

“Someone who dedicates their life to the world of Torah, and for Torah study this demands day and night toil, the state will recognize him,” the rabbi said. 

The conservative wing of the national-religious movement is generally more supportive of prolonged yeshiva study than the more mainstream part of the sector, even if it comes at the expense of national service.

In his speech, Bennett also commented on his alliance with the Yesh Atid party, calling it mostly a successful "tactical" alliance, and noting that one of the achievements of working together with the more secular party would be a law "for the first time in history the State of Israel officially recognizing learning Torah as a value."

Reflecting on the lessons of the alliance with Yesh Atid for the broader topic of the debate regarding the right balance between Israel's Jewish and democratic character, Bennett said, "even if we disagree, we talk. Everyone needs to know how to listen."

Turning toward equality and identity in the Israeli-Arab sector, Bennett said that "once there was no equality for Arabs," but implied that currently times have improved.

Bennett did discuss some areas where he had strong opinions regarding the Israeli-Arab sector, stating on one hand that police need to do a better job providing security in Israeli-Arab villages and that employers should make greater efforts to hire Israeli-Arab women in particular.

On the other hand, he said that respecting individual liberties would not reduce his strident opposition to developing a national Israeli-Arab identity as part of the State of Israel.

At one point, one audience member of the predominantly national-religious audience interrupted his speech asking in protest why he was encouraging hiring Israeli-Arab women.

Bennett responded firmly and concisely that the answer was simple: because "Arab women are equal citizens in Israel."

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