Thirty leading experts and analysts of the haredi community have written an open letter calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the coalition heads to remove the criminal sanctions clauses from the haredi conscription bill.
The clauses would impose possible criminal sanctions on ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students refusing to enlist.
The public figures who signed the letter said they hoped the wide-ranging opposition of such a large group of leading analysts of haredi society would help persuade the coalition to change the bill.
“The criminal sanctions proposal will not achieve equality but will instead make it more distant, bring about a halt in the integration of haredim into the army, lead the state to societal division and could bring endless trouble,” the experts wrote.
Among the signatories were Prof. Yedidya Stern, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute; Prof. Menachem Friedman, a researcher of haredi society; attorney Prof. Aviad Hacohen, director of Sha’arei Mishpat College; Prof. Amiram Gonen, head of the Center for Haredi Society Research at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies; Dr. Reuven Gal, head of the haredi integration project at the Shmuel Ne’eman Institute, and Shahar Ilan, a former Haaretz haredi affairs reporter and author of the book Haredim Ltd., who arranged the publication of the letter.
The government bill on haredi conscription stipulates that the Security Service Law, which provides for two years’ imprisonment for anyone refusing to serve, should be applied to haredi yeshiva students. The law is applied to all other Jewish men eligible for military service.
Yesh Atid in particular insisted that criminal measures be applied to haredim refusing to enlist, and argued that this was the only way to guarantee draft equality in the law and to withstand legal challenges in the High Court of Justice.
The signatories wrote that imposing criminal sanctions on yeshiva students will be seen by ultra-Orthodox society as a declaration of war on the yeshivot and as disparagement of the value of Torah study.
“Even if this step seems just and equal at first glance, in practice it will cause only damage,” they wrote. “A slow process of integration into military and civilian service has begun in the haredi community. The state has an interest in promoting and facilitating these trends in order to increase equality and the contribution of the haredim to the economy and to security.”
The experts said it was reasonable to assume that the imposition of criminal sanctions would lead to a halt in the integration of the haredi community.
They added that the arrest of yeshiva students could lead to civil disobedience to fight recruitment, violent protests and a decree from leading haredi rabbis banning enlistment.
“In such a struggle there will not be any winners, just losers. It will not bring about equality but simply distance it,” they wrote.
The group called on Netanyahu, the heads of coalition parties and all MKs to abandon the idea of criminal sanctions.
They proposed that incentives should be provided to encourage enlistment and that various state benefits be withdrawn from yeshiva students refusing to do so.