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Kandel plan: 65% haredi enlistment in 5 years
By JEREMY SHARON
02/18/2013
Prof. Eugene Kandel's plan calls for no quotas for yeshiva students; NGO Hiddush: Targets nothing but "self-deception."
 
Prof. Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, has outlined for the first time the plan for increasing haredi enlistment that Likud Beytenu is proposing as part of the current coalition negotiations.

The issue has completely dominated the talks thus far and poses a significant obstacle for the prime minister in building a stable coalition.

Crucially, Kandel’s proposal does not include quotas for the number of yeshiva students able to gain exemptions from national service, as demanded by Yesh Atid and draft reform campaigners, but provides incentives and financial sanctions to boost enlistment.

Yesh Atid thus far has insisted that its plan for a universal draft of all 18-year-old men in five years time is a condition for entry into a coalition.

A Shas source noted that the Kandel plan was very similar in content to the government’s so-called Ya’alon Plan, which Shas broadly supported at the time it was unveiled.

Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying group, heavily criticized the Kandel plan, labelling it “a different version of the Tal Law,” the legislation that regulated haredi military exemptions until it was struck down by the High Court of Justice last February.

Speaking on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” program on Saturday night, Kandel explained that his proposal would set an annual target of 60-65 percent enlistment of haredi men between the ages of 18 and 24 five years from now.

There are three different estimates from three government departments as to how many haredi men turn 18 each year, ranging from 6,180 to 8,537.

In order to encourage haredi enlistment, Kandel’s plan provides for the imposition of financial sanctions, such as the revocation of various state benefits for individuals who decide not to enlist, as well as punitive financial measures against yeshivas that register students who are not actually studying.

There are approximately 45,000 haredi yeshiva students registered as being in full-time study programs in lieu of military service, but it is believed that many thousands of these do not fulfill their state-mandated obligations.

Anyone found to be registered as a full-time yeshiva student but not fulfilling these obligations would be drafted, and would not receive the same benefits as those voluntarily enlisting. These benefits include professional training and career guidance for haredi recruits, as well as financial benefits for yeshivas at which students enlist.

Shahar Ilan, deputy director of Hiddush, said the principle of setting targets for enlistment instead of quotas for national service exemptions would extend the “intolerable situation that yeshiva students are not obligated to serve.”

“Whoever wants equality in the burden of national service has to set quotas for [the number] of yeshiva students who can stay in a yeshiva, and obligate the rest to serve,” Ilan said.

“Targets are nothing but self-deception,” he continued. “Maybe they’ll be implemented, maybe they won’t.”

Kandel said on the Saturday night news show that his plan deliberately focused on encouraging enlistment for “the larger sector” of registered yeshiva students who were not fulfilling their study obligations, saying they were “easier to deal with” instead of limiting the number of national service exemptions available.

The haredi spiritual leadership is deeply opposed to any proposal that would prevent a haredi man from studying full-time in yeshiva if he so chooses.

A source in United Torah Judaism reiterated that the party would not support any change to the status quo, but noted that the haredi spiritual and political leadership would likely limit its opposition to reforms if they were not seen as injurious to the ability of haredi men to choose to study in a yeshiva.

Following the dissolution last July of the Plesner Committee, which deliberated the issue of haredi enlistment, Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon issued a proposal to raise the number of haredim performing national service from the current 2,400 to 6,000 by 2016, and lower the age of exemption from 28 to 26. Like Kandel’s proposal, Ya’alon’s plan included incentives for enlistment, and financial sanctions for those choosing not to serve.

At the time, Shas leader Ariel Atias stated publicly that his party would support a 60% target for haredi enlistment within five years, while other Shas sources said the party would even live with financial sanctions against those choosing not to serve.
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