The special Knesset Committee on Equalizing the Burden of IDF Service will begin voting Monday on the bulk of the committee’s legislation on conscription. It is expected to be a stormy meeting.
The main point of contention regards criminal sanctions for haredi draft evaders, but this will apparently not be brought to a vote until next week. This will leave time for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to attempt to reach a compromise on the issue with Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi.
A source close to Netanyahu declined to comment on a report in Israel Hayom that the prime minister would rule in Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s favor and endorse criminal sanctions. Yesh Atid officials said that, just as Netanyahu voted for criminal sanctions in the bill’s first reading, they expect him to support them in its final readings.
The current version of the bill stipulates only economic sanctions for those refusing to serve. The question of whether haredi men, like all other Jewish men of military age, will be subject to imprisonment should they refuse to serve remains unanswered, because of the political disagreements on the issue.
The terms of the bill stipulate that anyone who is at least 18 on the day the law is enacted, and not yet 22, would be able to defer his service until the age of 24, and then receive an exemption. In addition, anyone who is between 22 and 28 when the law comes into effect would be able to get an immediate exemption.
This means that almost every haredi yeshiva student from age 18 to 28 who is studying full time when the law is enacted – approximately 50,000 men – will be able to get an exemption from the army.
These provisions have been heavily criticized by several groups that argue they will reduce motivation for yeshiva students to serve in the interim period.
The targets for haredi enlistment to military and civilian service programs that were initially established by the Peri committee, which devised the current bill, were 3,800 in 2014, 4,500 in 2015, and 5,200 in 2016.
In the permanent period of the bill, full-time yeshiva students would be able to defer their service until age 24 if enlistment targets, to be set by the government, are achieved. If enlistment targets are not achieved for a specific year, yeshiva students would be liable to enlistment at age 18, according to the current wording of the bill.
Housing benefits provided by the Construction and Housing Ministry would be withheld, while National Insurance discounts and municipal tax discounts would be revoked, and daycare subsidies cut by 25 percent.
Stipends for yeshiva students would be cut by 25% for the first year targets are missed, and by another 25% if they are missed two years in a row.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua), who is a member of the special Knesset committee dealing with the bill, said that the intermediary stage for implementation of the bill could possibly be extended to as late as 2019 as a form of compromise with Bayit Yehudi, which is firmly opposed to criminal sanctions for those refusing to serve.
The original draft of the bill proposes that the intermediary stage of the law last until 2017.
Stern insisted, however, that for the law to work, it is crucial that haredi men be subject to the law with the same consequences for evasion – imprisonment – as other Jewish men.
However, the Hiddush religious lobbying group said that the committee members, and those of Yesh Atid in particular, should rise above political interests; for even though it seems justifiable to impose criminal sanctions on yeshiva students who do not serve, such a policy could totally frustrate the goal of increasing the numbers of haredi men enlisting in national service.
“The goal must be to accelerate the welcome but slow process of haredi integration into national service and the economy and to [thereby] advance the value of equality of bearing the burden of service,” said Hiddush’s director and deputy-director, Uri Regev and Shahar Ilan.
“Economic sanctions are the best way to achieve this without plunging Israel into physical and violent confrontation with the haredi public,” they said.
They added, however, that the provisions allowing for the mass exemption of thousands of haredi yeshiva students currently in full-time studies are “unethical, illegal, and the exact opposite of equality in the burden of service.”