Change without coercion
Integration is an evolutionary process that can be nurtured, even encouraged, but that cannot be forced.
Haredi combat soldiers Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
In the wake of the Tal Law’s demise, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faces
tough choices. He could try to patch together yet another ad hoc Tal Law-like
arrangement with the haredi parties that would maintain, with a few cosmetic
changes, the present “status quo” that enables 60,000-plus draft-age haredi men
to skirt military service.
Doing so would place him in direct
confrontation with Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who has already
said publicly that he will not tolerate any more stopgap arrangements with the
ultra-Orthodox and that the time has come to settle the issue of haredi
draft-dodging once and for all.
Appeasing the haredim would also hurt
Netanyahu’s popularity among many Israelis who are rightly convinced that the
present situation is, as Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer pointed out last
Over half of haredi families live under the
poverty line, since haredi men cannot legally work as long as they indefinitely
postpone mandatory military service to devote themselves to Torah study. This
creates an increasingly draining burden on those Israelis who are productive and
support the welfare state.
According to a 2007 Bank of Israel study, 70
percent of ultra-Orthodox men were neither employed nor actively seeking
employment. Haredi draft-dodging is also undermining the “people’s army ethos”
that posits that all able-bodied men should take part in the defense of the
country. About a quarter of all 18-year-old Jewish men do not enlist in the IDF,
over half of whom are haredi. In 2011, 72.5% of 18-years-old Tel Avivians were
drafted. In Bnei Brak, 12.6% were.
Alternatively, Netanyahu could opt to
draft legislation opposed by Shas and United Torah Judaism – the two haredi
coalition partners – that would put significant pressure on haredim to enlist in
the IDF or perform some other form of national service. This might appease
Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu and the grassroots movements pushing for a more equal
sharing of the military burden. But it would also precipitate the collapse of
the government coalition.
The haredi parties – faced with the prospect of
the forced draft of tens of thousands of yeshiva students – would likely leave
the government. Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach, the unrivaled leader of haredi
Jewry in Israel who passed away in 2001, declared that it was better to emigrate
than to be drafted into the IDF. Without the haredi parties, the prime minister
would have no choice but to call early elections.
would undoubtedly see the electoral potential in fostering feelings of
victimization and religious persecution. Netanyahu might also be tempted to take
the route of coercion.
Taking a strong stand against the haredim might
increase Netanyahu’s popularity, take away voters from Israel Beiteinu and
preempt Yair Lapid and Kadima who are likely to run on campaigns calling to
draft the ultra-Orthodox. However, though we empathize with the desire to force
haredim to accept a more equitable share of national responsibility, it would be
unwise and counterproductive to use coercion.
In nearly every realm of
their lives, haredim are undergoing rapid changes, despite the opposition of
official haredi leadership.
From colleges that cater exclusively to the
haredi population that are producing haredi lawyers, accountants, social
workers, computer programmers and psychologists, to widespread Internet use. An
entire genre of fiction, including science fiction, written by haredim for
haredim has developed and popular haredi parental guidance literature,
influenced by Western psychology, now advises parents to replace strict
hierarchical relationships between parents and children with a more democratic,
liberal-minded approach as a means of stemming defections among haredi
The best way of retarding this process of integration – which
includes a growing number of haredi men who are enlisting in the IDF – would be
to launch an offensive against the haredi community. Integration is an
evolutionary process that can be nurtured, even encouraged, but that cannot be