Recent months have witnessed a significant decline in haredi enlistment in the National Service program, which was designed as an alternative to military service and is a key component for integrating haredi men into Israeli society.
Speaking to Kol Barama haredi radio station on Wednesday, National Service director Sar-Shalom Gerbi said that the number of haredi men enlisting in the program had dropped from an average of 70 to 100 a month to around 30 a month in the period leading up to February 2014.
Extremist elements in the haredi community have conducted an aggressive campaign against haredi men who perform any form of national service, military or civilian, and have labeled such people “hardakim,” meaning a weak-minded haredi person.
The general haredi community has also expressed anger at the terms of the new conscription law, which has been framed as an attack on the community, and has led to protests against service by even more moderate elements that did not oppose it in the past.
“People are embarrassed to come and enlist for national service in light of friction that has been created because of the conscription law,” Gerbi said, describing the decrease in enlistment as “dramatic.”
The National Service program is a key component of the new law for haredi conscription that was approved by the Knesset earlier this month. The law sets a series of increasing targets for overall haredi enlistment during an interim period leading up to 2017, divided into objectives for military and national service enlistment, with national service recruits supposed to make up close to fifty percent of the total number of haredi conscripts.
Gerbi said, however, that he believes the numbers of conscripts would begin to rise again once the immediate tensions and discord surrounding the passage of the law dissipates.