A realistic haredi draft
The benefits of gradual integration of the haredi population in mandatory military service are obvious.
Haredi man overlooking IDF ceremony Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
The newly elected 19th Knesset has a record number of
rookie MKs. They bring with them yet-unspoiled idealism, enthusiasm and fresh
new energies to an institution that is too often characterized by the hardball
realism of political maneuvering, backroom deals and – above all – compromising
A clash of perspectives – on the one hand, optimistic
yearning for positive change and on the other, sober pragmatism verging on
cynicism – is inevitable.
Indeed, the old-timers who managed to hold onto
their seats in the January 22 elections have launched an attack on the
“hopelessly idealistic” newcomers, particularly the many freshmen MKs that
makeup the Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi lists.
The seasoned veteran
politicians claim that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi must learn to play the
political game of give and take. Nowhere have the calls for pragmatic
recognition of the realities of political compromise been more vocal than with
regard to universal draft.
Their lack of political experience has made
Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi MKs stubbornly hold to their demand to end haredi
exceptionalism, say the veterans.
But we say more power to the
“idealists.” We call on the new lawmakers to cling to the ideal of “sharing the
And a recently released recommendation published by the Israel
Democracy Institute has made these freshmen MKs’ job a little easier.
presenting yet another reasonable solution to haredi draft-dodging, the Israel
Democracy Institute has helped rookie MKs stand up to the cynics. Economists Avi
Ben- Bassat and Momi Dahan and law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer have laid out
an ambitious but practical plan for gradually integrating haredi men into the
IDF entitled, “Haredim to the IDF: ‘Shall your brethren go to war and shall you
sit here? [Numbers 31,6]’” The idea is to have the IDF gradually over eight
years reach the goal of drafting 80 percent of approximately 9,000 haredi men
who make up the yeshiva equivalent of the high school graduating class every
year. In the first year, 10% will be drafted, in the second year 20% etc., until
in the eighth year the goal is reached.
The truly unique aspect of the
plan is that all those who are not enlisted or who are already aged 20 or older
will be exempted from military service altogether, which allows them to leave
the yeshiva and join the workforce without having to fear they will be
In presenting their 46-page plan, IDI’s researchers dispel a lot
of disinformation. For instance, they reject outright claims made by Shas MKs
such as Eli Yishai that many haredi men already serve in the IDF. In reality, in
recent years only about 5% of the haredi equivalent of the high school
graduation class for a given year serve compared to around 80% among the
The researchers also dismantle the haredi claim
that the IDF does not want or need haredim because it would cost too much to
train them and provide them with the proper environment, such as super kosher
food and gender segregation. In reality, claims Ben-Bassat, the integration of
haredim at the ages of 18 and 19 costs only a little more than non-haredi
soldiers. And drafting increasingly larger numbers of haredim – who currently
make up about a fifth of all Jewish males aged 18 – would make it possible to
reduce mandatory military service for everyone from three years – the longest in
any Western country where there is mandatory military service – to just two
A more equal sharing of the burden would foster social cohesion
and help combat ingrained resentment felt by some segments of the non-haredi
population that can hurt a haredi person’s chances of finding a job.
benefits of gradual integration of the haredi population in mandatory military
service are obvious while maintaining the status quo will cause increasing
damage to the economy, hurt motivation to serve among non-haredim and undermine
The record number of freshmen MKs elected to the 19th
Knesset reflects undercurrents within Israeli society yearning for a fresh
approach to politics. Rookies should not give in to the cynicism and pessimism
disguised as realism and compromise advocated by veteran MKs. A historic
opportunity to bring about a more egalitarian “sharing of the burden” must not
be squandered in the name of “political realism.”