Senior Shas MK Ariel Attias said Tuesday on Army Radio that according to parameters agreed upon by his party with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, it would be possible to achieve a 60 percent enlistment rate of the annual cohort of haredi men eligible for military or national service within five or six years.
A senior official within Shas confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that Shas had conceded to Netanyahu on a number of terms demanded by the Keshev Committee, which had been tasked with formulating new legislation for drafting haredim into national service.
He said however that Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, who chaired the committee, had insisted on harsher terms that had thwarted any possible compromise.
The source said Shas had agreed to financial sanctions against yeshivot, citing penalties on housing benefits as a possibility. The party also said that while it would formally oppose limited financial sanctions on individuals refusing to serve, it would not leave the governing coalition if the measure passed, the source said.
But an official within Kadima said most yeshiva students are not entitled to housing benefits anyway, so the offer was meaningless. The main problem, he insisted, was that the haredi parties refused to entertain the notion of personal responsibility for the students refusing to serve. He said sanctions could be circumvented by the designation of funds from other budgets through Knesset committees controlled by haredi MKs, as well as increased fundraising abroad.
Boaz Nul, a leader of the IDF draft reform campaign, also agreed that cancellation of welfare benefits would not be sufficient to achieve his movement’s aims: mandatory service for all at age 18, within five years.
“If someone from the non-haredi community fails to turn up at the IDF drafting center when they’re called, then they go to jail,” he told the Post.
“We don’t want them to go to jail, but breaking any law anywhere in the world leads to some type of penalty on the individual. It simply isn’t possible to allow a person to ignore the law without accepting personal responsibility for so doing.”
Until now, both Shas and United Torah Judaism have vehemently opposed personal sanctions in all public statements, and the issue had become one of the main sticking points in the closed-door negotiations between the haredi parties and the prime minister’s aides.
“Kadima is missing an historic opportunity here, to get to 60% enlistment in five or six years would be a real achievement,” the Shas source said. “But all Plesner wanted to do was boast that he got the haredim to go to the army. Now he’s left with nothing.”
The Shas official said that instead of agreeing to moderate personal sanctions on haredi men refusing to serve, Plesner had insisted on harsh penalties, including the return of all state subsidies received by yeshiva students who did not serve by age 25 – something he said could run into tens of thousands of shekels and was unacceptable from the party’s point of view.
Opposition from the UTJ faction and its spiritual leaders to draft reform for the ultra-Orthodox sector remains fierce. The haredi Yated Ne’eman daily in its Tuesday edition published a letter from Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the de facto leader of the non-hassidic haredi community.
“It is known to all that the world is sustained in the merit of the Torah and those who study it,” Shteinman said in the influential Degel Hatorah mouthpiece.
“It is therefore a holy obligation to permit anyone who learns Torah to do so, and it is not appropriate to abandon even one yeshiva student, nor is it appropriate to compromise on this.”
The letter itself was remarkable in that Yated Neeman referenced Shteinman, 98, for the first time as “maran,” an honorific connoting recognition that the rabbi is the spiritual leader of the generation. Shteinman has effectively inherited this status since former leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was hospitalized over four months ago.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman repeated his party’s hardline stance – that UTJ would not compromise on opposing any mass draft of yeshiva students.
“I am not ready for anything,” Litzman said in an Army Radio interview when asked what UTJ has offered during negotiations on the issue. “I’m ready to accept that whoever wants to study will study, whoever doesn’t will serve.”
Litzman laid the blame for the crisis squarely on Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz.
“It’s clear that Mofaz came in with an agenda,” he said. “He knows that what he suggests today will not be accepted,” adding “we’ll have to ask the rabbis” about any proposed solution and that he expects Netanyahu to confer with him again within the next day.
Following the breakup of the committee on Monday, Netanyahu warned haredi leaders that if a compromise is not reached by August 1 – when the “Tal Law” officially expires – the IDF will be free to begin drafting yeshiva students.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, also of UTJ, responded that this would create an anarchic state of public affairs: “Not one yeshiva student [who is studying within the framework] of the Tal Law will enlist as a result of this decision. Netanyahu needs to show responsibility and leadership and must abandon the community to chaos and anarchy.”
A source within the radical Eda Haredit organization agreed, warning that haredi society would “burn with fire if even one yeshiva student is drafted.”
Deputy director of the religious freedom lobbying group Hiddush Shahar Ilan said that in his opinion, it was very unlikely that the military police would start turning up at yeshivot on August 1 to draft the students, despite Netanyahu’s warning.
“The state would rather break the law than draft haredim, Ilan said.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.