'Historic' haredi draft bill ends coalition crisis

Clause allows exemption of 1,800 yeshiva students; Lapid says in 3 years 70% of haredim will be drafted.

May 29, 2013 22:35
3 minute read.
Lapid, Perry and Shelach hold press conference, May 29, 2013

Lapid, Perry and Shelach hold press conference 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Seventy percent of haredi 18-year-olds will be drafted starting in three years, up from the current 30%, due to a bill called historic by Finance Minister Yair Lapid that passed a crucial hurdle Wednesday.

The passage of the bill in a committee entrusted with equalizing the burden of service ended a short-lived crisis in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition. Netanyahu pressured Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to reluctantly support the bill, which enabled its passage.

The bill, which still must be passed in the Knesset and cabinet, was supported by Ya'alon (Likud), Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud), Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich (Yisrael Beytenu) and the head of the committee, Science, Technology, and Space Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid).

Bayit Yehudi Minister Uri Ariel voted against it, because he opposed a clause requiring criminal sanctions on draft dodgers. Hatnua Minister Amir Peretz abstained to protest a clause limiting the service of students in national religious hesder yeshivas.  

Lapid called a Knesset press conference with Peri to celebrate the bill's passage. Peri vowed there that his committee's recommendations would be implemented, unlike those of six previous commissions on the same issue. He said that for the first time, there would be clear limits on draft dodging.

"In past years, this issue has topple governments, broken apart coalitions, ruined careers and killed political parties," Lapid said. "It is a badge of honor for our government that it agreed on a unified path."

Lapid used the press conference to appeal directly to the haredim. Much like his past attempt to personify socioeconomic problems using the fictional Ricki Cohen from Hadera, Lapid appealed to Haim, a Bnei Brak 16-year-old, whose brother is more skilled than him in Torah studies but has math abilities that he does not understand why God gave him if he cannot use them.

"[Haredi leaders] are just trying to scare you," Lapid told Haim. "What is happening is not an attack on the Torah. We do not intend - God forbid - to force upon you secularism or our version of how to be Israeli."

Noting that one third of Israel's children are in haredi schools, Lapid said Israeli society could no longer handle mass haredi draft evasion, due to the increase in the size of the haredi population and the threats Israel is facing.

"Haim and all young haredim, when Syria is coming apart and al-Qaida is on our borders, it is happening to you too," he said. "If Iran becomes nuclear, it's happening to you too. They don't differentiate between Jews here. We need you."

Lapid promised that the bill would safeguard the Torah rather than harm it. He called upon business owners to hire haredim and bring them into the work force.

When a haredi journalist told Lapid he was naive to believe haredim would risk losing their values to leave poverty, the finance minister said he was confident they would opt to provide a livelihood for their families.

Ya'alon expressed hope that the decisions of the Peri Committee would lead to a continuation of the gradual increase in haredi service. He warned that the automatic imposition of criminal sanctions without any discretion was a "serious mistake that would only hold back the process" of integration of haredim into the army and national service.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called upon legal professionals to investigate the legality of the clause limiting the service of students in national religious hesder yeshivas.

"Not only do Asher and Chaim need to serve, but Neria and Elkana [national religious names] also must carry their weight by doing full military service," Livni said at a Bar Association convention in Eilat. "The bill differentiates between yeshivas and kippas based on which sector is in the coalition."  

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