MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) will go to jail rather than get drafted into the
army, MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism told the Knesset Foreign Affairs
and Defense Committee on Tuesday.
He also claimed that even though Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman “loathe”
each other, neither of them really wanted to advance a general election; they
were doing so, he said, simply to shorten the amount of time Yair Lapid and
Shaul Mofaz would have to get ready for it.
The purpose of the committee
hearing was to decide whether the proposals of the committee’s Working Group for
the Implementation of the Tal Law should be published or not, in light of the
High Court of Justice having ruled the law unconstitutional in
Despite Gafni’s objections and the law’s upcoming expiration on
August 1, the working group decided to continue with its work and, once it is
finished, will present its final findings and recommendations.
on the issue of haredi enlistment in the army, Gafni said that none of the bills
proposed thus far would solve the problem.
“Anyone who can see straight
knows that it is impossible to harm someone [who defers army service under the
framework of] ‘Torato omanuto
’ [Torah is his profession],” said Gafni, referring
to the 2002 Tal Law, which legally mandated indefinite postponement of army
service for full-time yeshiva students.
“At the end of the day, there
won’t be any change, and in the worst-case scenario, yeshiva students will just
sit in jail,” he argued.
Working group chairman MK Yohanan Plesner
(Kadima) said that a great responsibility lay on his panel’s shoulders, and that
in the coming months it would endeavor, “with or without elections, to coalesce
a majority to pass a law mandating obligatory service, and to halt attempts
aimed at preserving the Tal Law under the pretext of early
Plesner also vaunted the Kadima party’s proposal for a Tal
Law replacement, saying it would lead to real change.
There are currently
54,000 full-time yeshiva students who can indefinitely postpone their military
service through the terms of the Tal Law.
The rate of haredi enlistment
in the army stands at about 16 percent, as opposed to the national average of
approximately 75%. Ultra- Orthodox participation in national or civilian service
programs stands at roughly 11%, bringing the percentage of haredim in some form
of military or national service up to about 27% of draft-age
The haredi community and its leaders argue that the spiritual
well-being of the state is as important to its security as practical defense.
However, a large protest movement against the low haredi enlistment has gathered
steam this year, and has demanded mandatory military or national service for
all, including the ultra-Orthodox.
Gafni, the chairman of the Knesset’s
Finance Committee, also pointed out that the coalition agreements made when the
present government was formed included a section explicitly guaranteeing the
preservation of yeshiva students’ status.
“This section was signed by
Yisrael Beytenu and Labor, too, before it split up,” he noted.
whether or not to publish the working group’s findings and recommendations,
Gafni said there was no point, since the main political parties had already
proposed new bills on the matter.
Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev, who was also
present at the hearing, proposed the establishment of ultra-Orthodox hesder
yeshivot to advance haredi integration into the army. The hesder yeshiva system
provides a framework for religious soldiers to combine their military service
with Torah study over a five-year period. Typically the program consists of
three-and-a-half years in yeshiva and a year and a half in IDF training and
Ze’ev is an advocate of maintaining the Torato omanuto
framework, but is also in favor of encouraging increased haredi enlistment.