Ultra-Orthodox enlistment decreased by 40 percent in the first six months of 2014, compared to the preceding six month period, IDF officials said in a Knesset hearing on Wednesday.
The oversight committee for the recently approved law for haredi conscription met for the second time on Wednesday during which precise haredi enlistment figures for 2013 and 2014 were presented following the request of the committee last week.
According to the statistics, from July to December 2013 inclusive, 1,235 ultra-Orthodox men enlisted to the IDF.
But from January to June 2014 inclusive, just 737 enlisted, a decline of some 40%.
The decrease following the actual passage of the legislation in the Knesset in March of this year is even greater.
Haredi enlistment between January and March 2014 inclusive was 443 men, but just 294 between April and June 2014.
The law only imposes mandatory conscription on haredi men in June 2017, while simultaneously granting the 28,000 full time yeshiva students who were 22 and over at the time it was passed a full exemption from military service.
The law is ultimately to provide a full exemption to anyone who was 18 and older the day the law was passed, some 20,000 students, although they will have to wait till they are 26 to obtain the exemption but can defer their service every year until that time.
Politicians, academic experts and draft equality campaigners warned that such exemptions were likely to lead to a decrease in the rate of haredi enlistment seen thus far, which stood at approximately 30% of the potential draft from the ultra-Orthodox community in 2012.
The bitter atmosphere in the haredi street towards the government, particularly in regard to what the haredi leadership and public viewed as the antagonistic draft equality law, may have contributed to the reduction.
“All the cover-up attempts made by the army does not hide the fact that the conscription law caused a dramatic decline in the process of integrating haredim [into the army],” said the director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group Uri Regev. “All of this is because Yesh Atid stubbornly insisted on a law empty of content that includes criminal sanctions and refused to [advance] an effective and true law that was based on economic sanction.”
The issue of whether or not to impose economic or criminal sanctions was the most controversial aspect of the law. The legislation passed in March is, in 2017, to impose a possible prison sentence of up to two years on any haredi man refusing to enlist.
Many analysts, including Hiddush, argued that such a step would create severe opposition from the haredi leadership and would damage efforts to increase enlistment.
MK Ofer Shelah, who was the Yesh Atid representative on the committee that approved the legislation, refused a request for comment on the figures.
MK Ayelet Shaked claimed that enlistment targets would still be met, but acknowledged that a decrease had taken place.
“We are at the beginning of a process and these are its birth pangs,” Shaked said, adding that “haredi society faces a difficult test,” in coming to terms with the new law.
“With cooperation with IDF officials, citizens and politicians, I believe the process can be successful,” she said.