Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reiterated his position that integrating haredi men into army service must be done gradually and without coercion, during a hearing on Sunday of the special Knesset committee for the legislation on drafting haredi men into national service.
Ya’alon has consistently opposed imposing quotas on the number of haredi men able to gain military service exemptions.
“The correct way to ensure the integration of haredim into the IDF and Israeli society is a gradual process through special army courses and in the civilian service,” Ya’alon told the committee.
“It is not right to enter a drastic process of coercion that will lead immediately to opposition,” he continued.
Ya’alon’s statements run counter to the proposals of a government bill, drafted by the Peri Committee on “equalizing the burden,” which would mandate by law obligatory military or civilian service for haredi men, with those refusing to serve subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment, as is currently the case for all other Jewish citizens.
The defense minister insisted that claims that the army could not afford financially to absorb haredi recruits, or that it is not interested in doing so, were merely “tactics.”
“There will be a financial price to increase haredi enlistment, but it is a price worth paying,” he said.
Ya’alon was not alone in voicing his opposition to the terms of the Peri Committee bill during the committee hearing.
Prof. Yedidya Stern, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a former member of the Plesner Committee which deliberated on the issue last year, said that implementation of the bill would not be practically possible.
“A decision like this will lead to a rift within the nation...
There is no way in the world to decide who is defined as “an outstanding student,” and thus who will be eligible for the 1,800 exemptions,” Stern said, in reference to the Peri Committee proposal to grant 1,800 national service exemptions to outstanding yeshiva students each year.
“If there will be coercion it will lead to contempt for the rule of law, since in practice there will be no [haredi] enlistment,” he said.
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni underscored this message during the hearing by declaring that if the Knesset approved the legislation in its current form, the haredi leadership would issue a ban on any enlistment whatsoever.
“If the law will force enlistment of Torah students, we will forbid totally the continued enlistment of those haredim who are not studying and [seek] to enlist,” Gafni said.
In 2011, the rate of combined haredi enlistment in the IDF and civilian service was close to 30 percent.
Committee chairwoman Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi said the issue of quotas for national service exemptions had to be examined, and whether it would not be better to establish targets for haredi enlistment instead, along with consequences if they were not met.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!