The option of imposing criminal sanctions on yeshiva students who refuse to
perform national service seems to be losing support on the Knesset’s special
committee on haredi enlistment.
At a hearing the committee held on
Tuesday, it emerged that most members are now more inclined to impose economic
sanctions against haredi men refusing to serve, out of concern that criminal
measures and the threat of imprisonment would be ineffective and
The government bill drawn up by the Peri Committee earlier this
year proposed that a yeshiva student refusing to enlist would be subject to the
current terms of the Law of the Security Services, which stipulates up to two
years’ imprisonment for anyone who refuses to serve.
Menachem Friedman of Bar-Ilan University, a renowned expert in the field of
sociology and haredi society, said at Tuesday’s hearing that it would be
“problematic” to criminalize people whose motives for not wanting to enlist were
“We do not want to create prison camps for people who do not
want to fulfill a [particular] law,” the professor said.
“It won’t help
and will generate much greater opposition.”
Shahar Ilan, the deputy
director of religious freedom lobby group Hiddush, concurred, stating that it
would not be workable to imprison yeshiva students who didn’t want to
“Does anyone think that in the Jewish state, thousands of yeshiva
students will be taken off to jail?” he asked. “Criminal sanctions will make a
mockery of the legislative system.”
Hiddush has worked extensively to
draft haredim into national service, Ilan pointed out, but he said that
“criminal sanctions will blow everything up in our faces in four years’ time,”
when the proposed law becomes fully operative.
At the beginning of the
session, committee chairwoman Ayelet Shaked informed the panel that despite
previous evaluations, it would be legally feasible to impose economic sanctions
as a form of negative incentive for yeshiva students refusing to
Shaked noted that benefits such as state assistance for rent
payments and mortgages, as well as other forms of state subsidized housing,
municipal tax discounts, and stipends to yeshiva students could all be revoked
for anyone who declined to perform national service.
“The goal of all the
members of the committee is that in the end, the largest possible number of
haredim will enlist and [subsequently] join the work force,” Shaked
“The question is how to do this,” she continued. “What’s the point
of passing a law if we know it can’t be enforced? We all know that if we impose
criminal sanctions, no one is going to send the military police into Bnei Brak
Prof. Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute also
spoke out against criminal sanctions, and reiterated his position that such
measures would not be implemented and would lead to deep societal
“People waving about the notion of [national service] equality
will get not the desired results, but instead a split in Israeli society,” he
argued. “We can’t take up a weapon which is impossible to use.”
the numerous voices on the committee expressing opposition to criminal
sanctions, committee member and Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah continued to insist
that such measures were the only way to ensure the continuation of a “national
“Changing the bill by replacing criminal sanctions with financial
ones would totally undermine the notion of a national army and service for all,”
The issue of haredi enlistment was one of the main stumbling
blocks to the establishment of the government coalition earlier this
At the time, it was agreed in coalition negotiations that economic
and not criminal sanctions would form the basis of incentives to increase haredi
enlistment in national service programs.
However, during deliberations in
the ministerial committee led by Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri,
legal advisers to the panel said it would be legally problematic to revoke state
benefits granted to other citizens.
Former justice minister
Prof. Daniel Friedmann, who was present at Tuesday’s committee hearing,
said that the state could circumvent such legal problems by making the proposed
financial sanctions applicable to all Israeli citizens.
He added that the
Knesset, as the sovereign power within Israel, could resolve any further legal
difficulties by amending the necessary Basic Laws of the state, if it so
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni once again spoke out fiercely
against criminal sanctions and again noted subtly that if economic sanctions
were stipulated instead, the process of integrating haredi men into national
service programs would be easier.
“If you define yeshiva students who
don’t enlist as criminals, then I will call on everyone not to enlist,” the MK
“If you want haredim to serve, don’t impose criminal
sanctions,” he continued, arguing that insisting on criminalization would undo
the progress made since 2007, when implementation of the Tal Law’s provisions
Haredi enlistment in IDF and civilian service in 2011 amounted to
28 percent of the eligible haredi men for that year.
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