Ultra-Orthodox enlistment decreased by 40 percent in the first six months of 2014, compared to the preceding six month period, IDF officials said in a Knesset hearing on Wednesday.
The oversight committee for the recently approved law for haredi conscription met for the second time on Wednesday during which precise haredi enlistment figures for 2013 and 2014 were presented following the request of the committee last week.
According to the statistics, from July to December 2013 inclusive, 1,235 ultra-Orthodox men enlisted to the IDF.
But from January to June 2014 inclusive, just 737 enlisted, a decline of some 40%.
The decrease following the actual passage of the legislation in the Knesset in March of this year is even greater.
Haredi enlistment between January and March 2014 inclusive was 443 men, but just 294 between April and June 2014.
The law only imposes mandatory conscription on haredi men in June 2017, while simultaneously granting the 28,000 full time yeshiva students who were 22 and over at the time it was passed a full exemption from military service.
The law is ultimately to provide a full exemption to anyone who was 18 and older the day the law was passed, some 20,000 students, although they will have to wait till they are 26 to obtain the exemption but can defer their service every year until that time.
Politicians, academic experts and draft equality campaigners warned that such exemptions were likely to lead to a decrease in the rate of haredi enlistment seen thus far, which stood at approximately 30% of the potential draft from the ultra-Orthodox community in 2012.
The bitter atmosphere in the haredi street towards the government, particularly in regard to what the haredi leadership and public viewed as the antagonistic draft equality law, may have contributed to the reduction.
“All the cover-up attempts made by the army does not hide the fact that the conscription law caused a dramatic decline in the process of integrating haredim [into the army],” said the director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group Uri Regev. “All of this is because Yesh Atid stubbornly insisted on a law empty of content that includes criminal sanctions and refused to [advance] an effective and true law that was based on economic sanction.”
The issue of whether or not to impose economic or criminal sanctions was the most controversial aspect of the law. The legislation passed in March is, in 2017, to impose a possible prison sentence of up to two years on any haredi man refusing to enlist.
Many analysts, including Hiddush, argued that such a step would create severe opposition from the haredi leadership and would damage efforts to increase enlistment.
MK Ofer Shelah, who was the Yesh Atid representative on the committee that approved the legislation, refused a request for comment on the figures.
MK Ayelet Shaked claimed that enlistment targets would still be met, but acknowledged that a decrease had taken place.
“We are at the beginning of a process and these are its birth pangs,” Shaked said, adding that “haredi society faces a difficult test,” in coming to terms with the new law.
“With cooperation witYesh Atid MKs are furious after Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel blocked a bill by the party’s faction chairman Ofer Shelah on Wednesday, and plan to retaliate by obstructing Bayit Yehudi legislation.
Ariel submitted an appeal against Shelah’s bill that would rescind exemptions from IDF service for girls who were found lying about being religious. The proposal was approved for government support on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
According to Shelah, Ariel’s actions “prove once again that Bayit Yehudi, which praises [IDF] service and calls to battle, actually supports dodging full military service.
“Ariel and his party defend those who lie to get out of IDF service. That is deplorable and will not pass,” he added.
An internal Bayit Yehudi document obtained by The Jerusalem Post states that “Ariel presented [to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation] the fact that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is already working on regulations on the matter and requested a two-week postponement [of the vote] so the regulations can be discussed.”
In addition, a Bayit Yehudi source said the party is concerned that the bill does not provide guidelines for how to decide if a young woman is lying about being religious, and that the army may focus too much on how she dresses.
“Just because someone wears a bikini to the beach doesn’t mean she doesn’t keep kosher or observe Shabbat,” he said.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid plans to pick up the tactic it used earlier in the Knesset’s summer session: block Bayit Yehudi’s bills until it compromises.
In May, the parties found themselves at a legislative impasse as a result of an escalating war of appeals against each other’s bills.
Yesh Atid refused to lift appeals on Bayit Yehudi proposals unless the latter agreed to ease its unqualified opposition to surrogacy for same-sex couples, which Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) proposed in December. And Bayit Yehudi insisted that Yesh Atid stop blocking a bill that would make it impossible for the president to pardon certain murderers and terrorists.
The parties continued to appeal more of each other’s bills.
Eventually, the surrogacy bill was approved for government support after it went to a vote in the full cabinet, but Bayit Yehudi voted against it, and the same happened for the presidential pardon bill, with Yesh Atid voting against it.h IDF officials, citizens and politicians, I believe the process can be successful,” she said.
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