Coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin said Sunday night that the most likely outcome of legislative efforts to increase ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the army would be the establishment of clear recruitment targets for the sector by the government.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the replacement of the Tal Law at the Israel Democracy Institute, Elkin said the idea of gradually increasing the numbers of haredim enlisting according to government targets had not been given enough time and that more coercive measures would only cause a backlash within the ultra-Orthodox community.
The tempestuous debate, which included Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas), chairman of the Keshev committee to replace the Tal Law Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), as well as several other politicians and experts on the issue, sought to identify possible solutions to the problem of low haredi enlistment to military and national service programs, and consequently into the work force.
Elkin spelled out clearly the different possible approaches to the problem.
“We can reach an agreement between the two sides, which is hard to imagine happening, we can institute a completely coercive solution on the haredi community, or we can institute a more softer form of coercion, which the leadership of this sector will not really want to follow but will nevertheless not result in total societal upheaval,” Elkin said.
If the path of total coercion is taken, he continued, “then we will simply be going backwards for a long period of time, and I’m not sure in the long term it will be possible to achieve long-term achievements if we do this.”
Emphasizing that he was expressing his personal views and not that of the Likud party, Elkin argued that recruitment targets are the best solution, meaning the introduction of yearly government quotas for haredi recruitment into military and national service.
Campaigners for national service equality, however, are deeply opposed to this kind of solution, seeing in it the continuation of the situation created by the Tal Law.
Boaz Nul, one of the leading campaigners for equalizing the burden of national service, accused the coalition on Thursday of secretly plotting to impose this kind of solution without heeding the recommendations of the Keshev committee.
Elkin also said that deep reforms are required in the financial support provided to yeshivot in which men conduct their full time Torah study.
“At the moment, when someone leaves an institute of Torah study, it takes a financial hit,” Elkin said. “We need to create a model so that there will be a financial incentive for a yeshiva to release a student and not to keep hold of him.”
Echoing to some extent, Elkin’s sentiment, Attias called for restraint in the coalition’s approach to the issue.
The governing coalition, he said, can do what it wants because of its majority, and institute by coercion obligatory military service and end all funding for yeshivot.
But, he argued, the haredi community is already slowly drawing closer to the winder world, and imposing these coercive measures will arrest this change.
“Bring about these changes through embracing [the haredi community],” Attias implored.
“Don’t lecture us about poverty, we’re the ones suffering from it. For the sake of God, these changes need to be brought about without spiritual wars, without religious wars.”
The minister pointed to civilian service programs as the best solution for equalizing the burden of national service, especially if the higher goal is to integrate the ultra-Orthodox population into the work force, claiming that neither the IDF nor society at large wants to create large sectarian IDF units of ultra-Orthodox men.
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