Coalition and Labor MKs praised the passing of the government’s haredi
enlistment plan in its first reading on Tuesday, after a long debate in which
haredi lawmakers used creative means to demonstrate their
“This bill will allow tens of thousands of haredim to support
their families and themselves with dignity and integrate in to the workforce,” a
Yesh Atid spokeswoman said.
“For the first time in 65 years, via the
framework of this bill, everyone will serve their country.”
two components, which will require all 18-yearold haredi men to enlist in the
IDF or civilian service beginning in 2017, passed with 64 in favor and 21
opposed, and 66 in favor and 29 opposed, respectively, after a more-than-
six-hour debate that ended at nearly 5 a.m.
Haredi MKs found many
different ways to express their opposition to the legislation.
when Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), who led the
ministerial committee on ultra-Orthodox enlistment, presented the legislation,
they demonstratively walked out to pray.
MK Meir Porush (United Torah
Judaism) handcuffed himself to the lectern, declaring that “even if you handcuff
us, we will continue to study Torah!” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud
Beytenu) had Porush removed from the stand and said, “Such behavior is shameful,
and all you are doing is giving the Knesset Ethics Committee more
It took Knesset ushers several minutes to unlock the handcuffs and
separate Porush from the lectern.
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) quoted from High
Holy Day prayers – “Our Father, our King, rip up the evil decree” – and together
with other haredi MKs tore his shirt as a sign of mourning.
will be remembered for generations as one in which the government of Israel
decided to wage war against the Torah of Israel. Whoever raises his hand
in favor of this bill will not be forgiven or forgotten,” MK Yisrael Eicher
Shas lawmakers chose a less dramatic tack, simply presenting
arguments against the bill in their speeches.
“I have no delusions that I
can convince someone who is not part of the Torah world that someone who is a
man of Torah and studies Torah doesn’t even understand the expression ‘Equality
in the burden,’” Shas chairman Arye Deri said. “They don’t realize studying
Torah non-stop is carrying the burden.”
Deri called yeshiva students the
Sayeret Matkal (IDF General Staff’s Reconnaissance Unit) of Israeli
“[Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)] is leading a
patronizing and inflammatory discourse. The whole purpose of this bill is to cut
haredim out of society,” Deri said.
“Our forefathers all studied Torah
and dedicated themselves to the Torah of Israel,” MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said.
“You will not be able to force even one Torah scholar to enlist. He’d
rather sit in jail and study Torah. The Knesset is tearing the Jewish people
apart! Without Torah, there is no Jewish people.”
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas)
suggested that haredi enlistment would be bad for the IDF, because it would
“turn the army into one big beit midrash [Torah study hall].”
Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) presented the civil service
portion of the bill, saying that if there is a reason for the current coalition
to exist, it is to pass this legislation.
“This is the last opportunity
to build a partnership,” Bennett warned. “I am proud of Torah studies. They are
the reason we are all here [in Israel]. Am I 100 percent happy with this bill?
No. Is Lapid 100% happy? No. But I’m proud of the government that is dealing
with one of the central problems in the State of Israel.”
leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) explained that her party will support the bill
on principle, because it believes serving in the IDF is a privilege, not a
burden, that all citizens should have.
At the same time, she said the
bill will not get haredim to enlist.
“The bill doesn’t really bother me,
because it’s not worth much, but the cheap discourse of hatred does. We need to
create a common ethos, something that will connect us and not divide,”
Lapid wrapped up the discussion of the bill by saying
that he has no hatred for haredim or Torah.
“The haredim said that we
hate them in order to make their work easier. They know that no one really hates
them. All we’re trying to say is they made a mistake in their
understanding of the relationship between a country and its people. All
we’re saying is we can’t continue with the old arrangement. Tonight isn’t
about war, but about reconciliation,” Lapid said.
On Monday, the Knesset
authorized the formation of a committee led by MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi)
that will prepare the bill for its second and third (final) readings, and
includes MKs Meir Porush (UTJ), Ariel Attias (Shas), Omer Bar-Lev (Labor),
Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu), Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid) and Elazar Stern
The bill will not be brought to a final vote during the
Knesset’s summer session, which ends on August 4.
The haredi enlistment
bill only mandates obligatory service beginning in 2017. In addition, the
legislation allows anyone who is 22 and over on the day it becomes law to
receive an automatic exemption from military service and to enter the
Any haredi man who is between 18 and 22 when the law is
enacted is encouraged to enlist but is able to defer service until age 24, after
which he is eligible for a full exemption and allowed to join the
Anyone who is 18 and under would be obligated to enlist, but
able to defer service until age 21, which, if the bill is passed this year, will
not be until 2016.
Critics of the bill are concerned that the interim
period provided for under the “Peri Bill” will lead to a decline in haredi
enlistment from current rates, which in 2011 stood at almost 30% when taking IDF
and civilian service enlistment together.
Perhaps the most controversial
aspect of the legislation is that starting in 2017, a haredi yeshiva student
aged 21 who refuses to serve is to be subject to the Law for the Security
Services (1986), which provides for the imprisonment of anyone evading the
Other provisions of the bill allow for granting full exemptions to
1,800 outstanding Torah scholars each year, and for imposing financial penalties
on haredi yeshivot that do not fulfill enlistment quotas.
criticized the bill for not including any provisions for obligatory enlistment
of Israeli Arabs to some form of national service.
contributed to this report.