A mockery, deceitful, fraudulent and unequal were just some of the epithets draft-equality campaigners used to describe the final version of the haredi enlistment bill that the Shaked Committee approved on Wednesday evening.
Most of this invective was directed toward Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party because of what is seen as a lost opportunity of historic proportions to change the situation.
There are two principal objections to the bill which those opposed to it say will ensure that haredim will continue to avoid military service if it becomes law. The first is that the bill gives a full service exemption to some 50,000 yeshiva students of military age, 18- to 28-year-olds, and allows anyone under 18 to delay his service for three years.
Campaigners argue that this in no way constitutes military service equality and that there is no legal justification for such a blanket exemption. Indeed, the lawyers are already being hired and the High Court petitions are already being drafted for the day after the bill is passed into law.
The second point of concern is that the full force of the law takes effect only in 2018. With the average duration of government coalitions significantly lower than the allotted four years, the haredi parties could be back in government before even one haredi man has enlisted as a result of this law, argue draft equality campaigners.
The delay in the implementation of the law means that there will be no legal or economic incentive for a haredi man to enlist till 2018, and so government- set targets are certain to be missed.
“The law contradicts itself,” says Shahar Ilan, deputy director of the Hiddush lobbying group, because by exempting the thousands of possible conscripts till 2018, there will be no reason to enlist, he explains.
If the haredi community does not fulfill the government targets for enlistment, haredi yeshiva students will be liable to imprisonment for evading the draft after 2018.
But that will not happen either, since there’s nowhere to put thousands of men who refuse to enlist on ideological grounds.
Behind closed doors, haredi MKs are affording themselves a quiet smile because nothing will happen for years, one haredi political source told The Jerusalem Post.
Although the immediate implications are slight, there is still anger in the haredi leadership that the statute book of the State of Israel will prevent anyone who desires to study in yeshiva for as long as he wishes from doing so.
This is a point of principle that has caused genuine anger and is a point of ideological principle at the very highest spot in the list of haredi priorities.
In addition, a power struggle is being waged within the haredi sector for leadership and control of the community.
The hard-liners of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and his Bnei Torah grouping have for a long time argued that the secular leadership simply wants to stop haredim from learning Torah and make them secular Israelis.
These hard-liners have therefore been behind all of the major rallies and riots against enlistment in the last year.
The mainstream faction, headed by Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, has, during the two years since the “Tal Law” was struck down by the High Court, refrained from calling for mass demonstration, out of a desire not to allow Auerbach to determine the haredi agenda.
But now the Bnei Torah activists can, and in fact are, saying “We told you so.” In a message issued Wednesday night the group expressed the hope that “all the various sectors of haredi Judaism will join it in a steadfast and uncompromising struggle against this wretched plot.”
The pressure on Shteinman is now too great for him to resist any longer. A spokesman for the rabbi and the Degel HaTorah rabbinic leadership issued a statement on Wednesday saying that in light of the stipulation that yeshiva students will be liable to imprisonment, Shteinman has authorized a mass prayer rally against what he termed “the defining of Torah students as criminals.”
Yesh Atid remains optimistic that its law will indeed augur a new era in which haredi men will leave the yeshivot, enlist in national service and join the workforce.
But the skepticism of most analysts regarding the ability of the current bill to sufficiently motivate the haredi community to comply with the law should be a sobering point to ponder.
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