As the Knesset summer session begins, there has been a renewed push to pass
legislation that will encourage more Israelis – in particular haredim – to
perform military service.
In February, the High Court of Justice ruled
that the “Tal Law,” which anchored in law sweeping deferrals from military
service for haredi men, contradicted the principle of equality by effectively
exempting some citizens from military service while obligating others. With the
Tal Law expiring in August, the Knesset must pass alternative legislation before
Last Saturday night, grassroots movements relaunched
demonstrations, this time in the Rose Garden across from the Knesset. Activists
call themselves “suckers,” to express their frustration with the fact that more
than 60,000 yeshiva students between the ages 18 and 41 receive deferrals from
the IDF while other Israelis of the same age are obligated to perform military
At least one cabinet member, Environmental Protection Minister
Gilad Erdan, visited so-called Suckers’ Tent set up in Rose Garden and signed a
petition calling for universal military or civil service.
Independence Day various political leaders emphasized the importance of an
“equitable sharing of obligations.” During an award ceremony for 120 outstanding
soldiers – including several haredi men – President Shimon Peres made such a
call. Speaking at the Bible Quiz, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that
“today we need a significant change in the way we share our
Citizens from all the sectors must cooperate in fulfilling
their civilian obligation, first among being military service, or national
service in appropriate cases.
Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu Chairman and
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote on his Facebook wall that he hopes by
next year, the soldiers given awards on Independence Day will originate from all
sectors – secular, haredi, Druse, Arab and Beduin.
popularity ratings ahead of elections – currently slated for fall 2013 –
politicians know that advocating “equitable sharing of obligations” garners wide
appeal. A recent poll conducted by Hiddush, an NGO that supports religious
pluralism, surveyed 500 Jewish Israeli adults and found that 82 percent favor
legislation that would force yeshiva students to perform military
Still, our lawmakers must be careful not to get carried away by
the populist fervor. Doing away with the Tal Law altogether, abolishing
deferrals and forcing young haredi men to join the IDF under threat of fine or
imprisonment would be a serious mistake. Direct coercion will only strengthen
the most extreme elements in the haredi community who are fundamentally opposed
to any form of military or national service.
Instead, the state must find
ways to maintain gentle but insistent pressure on haredi young men to share with
their non-haredi brethren in the collective endeavor to defend the Jewish
Measures should include providing economic incentives for those
who do serve; creating additional frameworks within the IDF that can accommodate
the haredi population while at the same time being careful not to undermine the
uniformity of military service; restricting the drafting of haredi men to those
who can truly contribute to the IDF while referring others to National Service;
and fostering cooperation with leaders of the haredi community who are willing
to quietly support the drafting of yeshiva students who lack the disposition to
sit and study for eight to 12 hours a day.
Ways must be found to allow
the significant, widespread evolutionary changes taking within this population
to proceed unhindered. It is the best way to facilitate integration.
vast majority of Israelis are understandably disconcerted by the realization
that due to brisk haredi population growth, within a decade or two, half of all
18-year-old men will opt out of mandatory military service.
But we should
remember something else – that in another decade or two, the haredi population
will have changed dramatically, and significantly larger numbers will be sharing
in the collective burdens of the Jewish nation. Coercion will not expedite this
inevitable change; it will only delay it.