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