Finance Minister Yair Lapid held a press conference Thursday afternoon in Tel Aviv lauding the haredi enlistment bill that will be sent next week from committee to the Knesset plenum for its passage into law.
Speaking alongside fellow Yesh Atid MKs Ofer Shelah and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, Lapid said the party had fulfilled one of its central electoral pledges – to draft haredim into military service – citing the clause in the new bill providing for criminal sanctions on haredi draft-dodgers, as are applicable for all other Jewish men.
“This historic injustice that has lasted 65 years is fixed because we were determined, we stood up for our principles and everyone looked at us and understood that we would not fold because these are our values,” Lapid said.
“Zionism has returned, and returned with pride,” he declared, and pointed out that as soon as the government bill is passed, haredi 17-year-olds will start getting draft notices.
The bill stipulates that any yeshiva student under the age of 18 when the law comes into effect will be obligated to serve, but they will be able to defer service for three years.
“Everyone will go to Bakum [the IDF induction center], everyone will serve in the military or civilian service and everyone will integrate into the work force afterward and provide for themselves and their families.”
Opposition politicians were not as enthusiastic about the legislation.
Opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog called the measure “the law of virtual equality in military service,” adding that it would not help draft the ultra-Orthodox into the army.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On derided the bill, noting that haredim would not be drafted till 2017, “and until then, either the Knesset or the government will change, and then the law will change too.
“Despite the populist and demagogic claims of Lapid and [Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali] Bennett,” in striking down the previous arrangements for haredi men the High Court of Justice did not “call for coercive conscription and military service for haredim and did not envision thousands of yeshiva students being taken to prison,” Gal- On said.
She criticized the Shaked Committee, which reviewed the bill over the past seven months, for failing to significantly extend the service of hesder yeshiva students.
The committee amended the draft law to increase hesder military service from 16 to 17 months, and reduce regular service for other men from 36 to 32 months.
Instead of making the length of military service for hesder yeshiva students equal to that of the majority of IDF soldiers, “Bayit Yehudi has succeeded in perpetuating the current discrimination,” Gal- On said.
Grassroots campaigners continued their attack on Lapid and the bill.
“This is a historic day on which politicians have reached a new level of cynicism toward their electorate,” the Forum for Draft Equality wrote in response to Lapid’s press conference.
“How can he say that every 18-year-old will enlist when just yesterday a bill was approved which provides for the exact opposite,” the forum’s response continued, referring to approximately 50,000 haredi students currently in yeshiva who will gain either an immediate or delayed exemption from military service under the legislation.
“To our dismay, we have lost the current battle for equality in the burden of military service, but we will not cease fighting on this matter,” the forum said.