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Haredi moderates condemn Yesh Atid petition
By JEREMY SHARON
12/20/2012
Tov movement slams party’s effort to prevent draft of 1,300 ultra-Orthodox into civilian service.
 
Tov, a moderate haredi political movement, has filed a request with the High Court of Justice to be included as a respondent to a petition filed by Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party against a government decision allowing the Civilian Service Directorate to enlist 1,300 haredi men into its national service program by August 2013.

The Tov movement, which says it represents members of the haredi community who are disillusioned with the community’s traditional political leadership, heavily criticized the petition as politically motivated and not constructive.

Although it is not running in the upcoming general election, Tov has several representatives on municipal councils around the country, including in Beit Shemesh, Betar Illit and Modi’in Illit, and will field candidates for municipal elections at the end of 2013.

Tov director Hanoch Verdinger said that it was crucial to allow continued recruitment for civilian service as part of efforts to integrate haredi men into the workforce.

“This petition will only have a negative effect; nothing positive can come out of it,” Verdinger said. “They wouldn’t have filed this populist petition if it wasn’t election season, but if they want to prevent haredim from joining the workforce, then this is a way to do it.”

According to statistics from the Civilian Service Directorate, approximately 85 percent of graduates from the program have integrated into the workforce.

Verdinger also condemned haredi politicians from ultra- Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas for abandoning their constituent voters over the issue.

“It might as well be happening in Zimbabwe for all the attention they’ve paid to it,” he said, explaining that Tov was seeking to step into the vacuum and “provide political support and representation for members of the haredi community wishing to join the workforce and live a more normative life.”

If Tov’s request to join the state as a respondent to the petition is accepted, it would allow the High Court to approach the movement’s representatives for evidence and testimony when deliberating on the petition.

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The court is currently waiting for the state’s response to the petition, which must be presented by next Thursday.

Ofer Shelah, who is in the sixth slot on the Yesh Atid electoral list, defended the petition, saying that following the expiration in August of the “Tal Law,” which had allowed fulltime yeshiva students to indefinitely defer their military service, recruitment for the civilian service was not legally mandated and that the state must operate according to the law.

Shelah also criticized the civilian service program itself, saying that it is not comparable to military service, does not provide tangible benefits for the state and is expensive, since many of the participants are married with children, for whom they receive significant monetary disbursements as part of their monthly income from the directorate.

“The civilian service program as it is today is very far from what we in Yesh Atid envision,” Shelah said.

The civilian service program was mandated by the Tal Law in 2002, and established in 2007 as a form of national service for haredi men. The program, entailing 40 hours a week of service for a year, places volunteers in various government departments and bodies in the fields of welfare, public security, public health, immigration absorption and environmental protection.

Recruitment for the program was frozen when the Tal Law expired, but the directorate requested a special government decision allowing it to recruit new volunteers to replace the shortfall resulting from the departure of the participants who complete their service every month.

In August, the number of active civilian service personnel stood at 2,026, but since recruits join, and thus complete, the service on a monthly basis, numbers have declined to approximately 1,450 as of December.

The Civilian Service Directorate stated before last week’s decision that dozens of haredi men who applied to the program since August had to be turned away each month because of the recruitment freeze.

The decision allows recruitment to recommence, although the directorate will not be allowed to exceed the number of recruits who were serving on July 31 until after new legislation is drawn up.

Therefore, although enlisting 1,300 men would in theory bring the number to over 2,700, the turnover rate of those leaving the service would ensure that the number of people actually serving at one time remains at the level it was at as of July 31.
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