A historic opportunity seems to be slipping from the government’s hands. Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday disbanded the Keshev Committee, created to
formulate a way to equalize the national burden of military and non-military
service by increasing haredi and Arab enlistment.
Just weeks before the
August 1 deadline set by the Supreme Court to find an alternative to the Tal Law
– which allowed haredim to indefinitely defer military service – the chances of
reaching a Solomonic compromise with the ultra-Orthodox community are looking
However, at least one positive outcome will result
from the disbanding of the Keshev Committee.
Before the committee was
dismissed, several of its members seemed bent on presenting suggestions that
included various means of coercion which would have only exacerbated the already
tense situation. At the time of its disbanding, the committee was devoid of
haredi representatives and was dominated by various members of the committee
voicing militant, uncompromising positions, apparently less out of a desire to
effectively increase the number of haredim – who will, like their fellow
citizens, devote several years of their lives to serving the country – and more
out of a calculated nod to cheap populism.
Before it is too late, our
exceedingly broad coalition should reassess the situation and make a decision
that will truly foster greater haredi integration. The Supreme Court ruled in
February that the Tal Law was discriminatory because it allowed haredim to skirt
mandatory military service while less outwardly devout citizens were forced to
postpone their lives to perform military or national service.
If not for
that ruling, our politicians would not have to tinker with the evolutionary
process of increasingly larger numbers of yeshiva students leaving the study
hall for the barracks or for national service in hospitals, volunteer
organizations or rescue forces.
A sea change taking place within haredi
society, combined with essential reforms that have taken place within the IDF
and within the national service apparatus, have made this evolutionary process
Unfortunately, for five years after the Tal Law was passed in
2002, the government essentially squandered its first real opportunity to begin
slowly integrating the fast-growing haredi population into the military and,
more importantly, into the labor market.
In 2007, the National Service
Administration was finally created to help haredi men interested in leaving
yeshiva and entering the labor market perform a year of national service. In
parallel, various programs were gradually created in the IDF specializing in
absorbing haredim, with all their demands for strict gender separation, special
kosher food and consideration for the fact that many haredi men are married with
children by the time they are ultimately drafted.
After nearly a decade,
the government, IDF and National Service Administration finally began to
effectively integrate haredim, but the Supreme Court was unwilling to wait any
The facts are undeniable. In 2002 just 36 percent of the haredi
population was employed; by 2010, 46% were. In 2005, just 300 haredi men were
either serving in the IDF or doing some form of national service. By 2011, the
number jumped to 4,386, 2,700 of whom were serving in the IDF.
As of May
2012, some 10,000 haredi had served in the IDF as a result of the Tal Law. True,
this is just a fraction of the total number of haredi men eligible for military
service, but in contrast to previous years, the change for the better is
On the backdrop of these figures, direct government
intervention should be limited. After all, the desired change is already
happening. All that is needed is a little additional encouragement via, for
instance, handsome economic incentives to all Israelis – haredi or not – who
serve in the IDF.
Sensing, perhaps, that the Keshev Committee was headed
for a direct confrontation with the haredi community, Netanyahu wisely decided
to disband it before irreparable damage was done.
Nothing would be more
counterproductive to the positive trends already taking place than to transform
the issue of the draft into a holy war for the haredi populace.
haredim are ready to be gradually integrated into either the IDF or National
Service and go on to become productive members of society who are capable of
supporting themselves and their families. It would be a shame if the government
misses this chance to right a historic wrong.