The Knesset special committee for government legislation on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment voted in favor of imposing a legal obligation to perform military service Wednesday night.
However, Bayit Yehudi MK Mordechai Yogev thwarted attempts to complete the committee’s work and introduced several requests for amendments to the bill, leading committee chairwoman and Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked to adjourn the latenight meeting.
The committee was scheduled to approve the imposition of a legal obligation to perform military service on haredi men, and to then send the bill to the Knesset plenum for its second and third (final) readings.
Although criminal sanctions for draft evaders were approved, Shaked – who abstained in the committee vote – introduced an amendment to the clause, requiring further debate on the issue at another time.
Bayit Yehudi has publicly opposed criminal sanctions for haredi yeshiva students refusing to serve but had apparently accepted Yesh Atid’s demands that a legal obligation to serve be included in the bill.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night, Yogev, a reserve committee member, termed the legislation “a stupid law” and said it “will not succeed in bringing about haredi enlistment.”
The MK said that the automatic imposition of criminal sanctions if enlistment targets were not met would not be effective. He introduced various procedural obstacles during the committee hearing to indicate his opposition to the legislation.
The committee’s vote to impose criminal sanctions evoked consternation from the mainstream haredi leadership, which vowed that the haredi public would take to the streets in mass protest against the law.
The issue of whether to impose criminal or financial sanctions on haredi men refusing to enlist has troubled the government for several months, and generated significant stress on the stability of the coalition.
Despite calls from many quarters to use financial sanctions alone as the best method to convince yeshiva students to enlist, threats by Yesh Atid to leave the government unless criminal sanctions were imposed ensured that the party’s demands were met.
The bill stipulates that yeshiva students el igible for enlistment when the interim period of the law begins will be to all intents and purposes exempt from service until 2017, although the government will set increasing targets for recommended numbers of haredi enlistment in the interim years.
In 2017, if the target for that year is not met, the Law of the Security Services will legally mandate that obligatory military service will be applied to haredi men from the age of 18, as it is to all other Jewish men, with the possibility that they will be imprisoned for up to two years if they refuse to serve.
One clause which was successfully inserted into the bill provides, however, for a half-year to one-year deferral in the application of criminal sanctions after 2017, so that the actual year for full obligatory service to begin will be 2018.
The two haredi members of the Shaked Committee, MKs Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) and Ariel Attias (Shas), said that following the decision to impose criminal sanctions they would no longer attend the hearings and votes. They were not present at the committee session on Wednesday night.
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) welcomed the approval of the criminal sanctions clause. He said that he was certain it would lead to increased haredi enlistment and participation in the workforce, and that it was a significant victory for his party.
Draft equality campaigners, however, denounced the bill because of the mass exemptions it provides to all haredi men of military age on the day the law is passed.
“To our dismay, the Shaked Committee has distributed exemptions to different communities without fulfilling the purpose for which it was established – to bring about full equality in the burden of military service,” the Forum for Draft Equality said.
“[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, [Yesh Atid chairman Yair] Lapid, [Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali] Bennett, Shaked, [Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor] Liberman and [Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi] Livni will be recorded in history as the ones who most greatly injured the principle of equality, and it pains us that this is the situation in a government which was created without haredi parties in the coalition,” the forum said.
The Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group said the decision to impose criminal sanctions was “a classic example of public deception and the preference for coalition survival instead of the good of the country.
“This decision ensures that equality in military conscription will not be achieved, but what will be achieved is a severe and unnecessary societal division,” the organization commented.