As the government approved the Peri Bill for passage to the Knesset on Sunday –
a decision lauded by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and other assorted members of the coalition – independent observers
and draft equality campaigners issued a more circumspect perspective on the
importance of the proposed law.
Netanyahu, Lapid and Minister for Science
and Technology Yaakov Peri, who headed the committee to draft the bill, all
spoke about its historic nature and of righting a long-standing injustice in
But the measure by which the bill, should it be passed
into law, will be assessed is its efficacy, or otherwise, in increasing haredi
enlistment in military and civilian service programs.
And doubt has been
expressed in several quarters that the Peri bill will succeed in this, its
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Prof. Tamar El Or
of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert in haredi society, said that
the main goal for the state remains the integration of the haredi community into
the work force and as such, it would have been better to address this issue than
to score political victories on the issue of enlistment.
expressed concern that the law as it is, which would lead to imprisonment for a
yeshiva student who refuses to enlist, could cause chaos if the haredi
leadership carries through on threats to issue a blanket ban on enlistment and
instructs yeshiva students to go to jail instead of performing military or
This threat, which has been made more than once, was
repeated on Sunday by senior United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman.
Hiddush religious-freedom lobbying group has also expressed concern with the
clause in the bill mandating imprisonment for draft refusal, which is the only
form of sanctions the law would levy on an individual refusing to
Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said last week that
the expectation that it would be possible to enforce enlistment through
imprisonment was “baseless,” whilst heavily criticizing other aspects of the
Peri committee’s bill.
And it is not only the type of negative incentives
suggested by the new legislation that has created concern.
Once the law
goes into effect, anyone who is 18 or older on the day the legislation is
enacted will be entitled to a complete exemption, either immediately or after
Those who are younger than 18 will be obligated to serve
but can defer service till the age of 21, meaning that until 2016 there will be
little motivation for haredi men to enlist.
The latest data available on
haredi enlistment, from 2011, showed that close to 30 percent of the potential
haredi annual cohort performed either military or civilian service. Concern has
been expressed by several observers that even this rate of enlistment will be at
risk in the coming three years.
The Forum for Equality in the Burden of
Military Service, a campaign group, certainly thinks so, and said that it
guaranteed haredi enlistment in 2014 would not exceed that of 2012.
is most worrying to advocates of draft reform and haredi enlistment is the
deadline set by the Peri bill.
It provides for an interim period during
which enlistment targets will be set, but will not be mandatory, until
The fear is that once 2017 comes around, the current government,
which features no haredi parties, will have already fallen, and new elections
will bring in a new coalition, possibly featuring the ultra-Orthodox factions
once again who may undo the law the Peri committee has worked so hard to
Of course, it is possible that such doomsday predictions are not
fulfilled. El Or noted that for some haredim the new law was good news as it
provided an escape route from a life that, for some not cut out for permanent,
full time yeshiva study, is inappropriate.
El Or said that for such
members of the community who have been searching and waiting for brave
leadership from their rabbis and political leaders, the government intervention
could be a welcome development.
She also noted the bill’s symbolism,
being the first attempt by the government in the country’s history to mark an
end to haredi dependence on the state and the beginning of an era in which the
community would have to take care of itself.
Whether or not such
symbolism provides the impetus for achievements of greater substance remains to