Keshev: ‘personal responsibility’ for national service

Recommendations include goal of 80% ultra-Orthodox IDF enlistment, nat'l service by 2016, new service tracks, limiting number of exemptions to 1,500, shortening service, personal sanctions for refusers.

Yohanan Plesner at Keshev C'tee press conference 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Yohanan Plesner at Keshev C'tee press conference 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Keshev Committee chairman Yohanan Plesner presented the panel’s muchawaited recommendations on Wednesday – albeit in his own name only, due to the prime minister’s decision to disband the panel earlier this week.
The Kadima MK – who said he had based his recommendations on the discussions within the committee, even though his was the only signature on the document – made his presentation at a press conference in the Knesset, during which he said that achieving a more equal share of the national service burden was the basis of social justice and a vibrant society, and called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu directly to implement his proposals.
Nonetheless, he added that there was room for compromise within the parameters of the recommendations, saying that the document he was presenting was not sacrosanct.
Following the press conference, committee member Prof. Yedidia Stern, vice-president of the Israel Democracy Institute, called Netanyahu’s decision to disband the committee on Monday “a missed opportunity of historic proportions.”
“The committee arrived at a proposal designed to bring about the enlistment of a large majority of the haredi [ultra-Orthodox] community within a period of five years,” said Stern. “Just two days before the completion of our work, the prime minister disbanded the committee because of pressure from extremist fringe elements in the current coalition.”
Hiddush, a religious-freedom and IDF draft reform lobby group, said that the proposals included “brave and necessary steps” alongside “very problematic and unreasonable recommendations.”
“The fact that the prime minister was not even ready to adopt this far-reaching compromise proves that he prefers the preservation of his coalition with the haredi parties instead of the drafting of yeshiva students,” Hiddush director Uri Regev said.
Among the most significant recommendations in the report were the establishment of obligatory national service for all as a principle, and enforcing “personal responsibility” for the fulfillment of this principle, primarily through levying fines and financial sanctions against individuals refusing to serve.
The haredi political factions fiercely oppose the imposition of personal sanctions. This constitutes one of the principal roadblocks to the prime minister’s ability to reach a compromise with Kadima, which has insisted on the necessity of such sanctions.
In his recommendations, Plesner proposed that a fulltime yeshiva student be able to defer national service until age 22, at which point he would be required to declare whether he intended to serve or to accept the consequences of refusing. If he agreed to serve, he would enter national service by age 23.
Hiddush was extremely critical of this proposal, primarily because many haredi men are married with children by this age. Since anyone enlisting in the army is entitled to significantly increased stipends if they have a family, drafting men at this age would be an expensive undertaking for the IDF and make the army less inclined to accept such recruits.
According to the recommendations, someone who deferred his service until age 22 would still be entitled to monthly stipends from the state. Meanwhile, the government would conduct bi-annual inspections of yeshivot. If a student were absent for two consecutive inspections, he would be subject to a NIS 50,000 fine, a retraction of his right to defer service, and an order to enlist immediately.
If a student refuses to serve at age 22, Plesner’s recommendations stipulate an automatic NIS 7,500 fine, and an additional NIS 75 fine for every day he refuses to present himself for national service.
He would also incur a criminal record and a retraction of his status as a yeshiva student for the purposes of national insurance discounts, municipal tax discounts and state housing benefits.
Plesner also recommended that 1,500 yeshiva students, selected by the yeshivot from each annual intake of men reaching military age, receive the status of “dedicated” students who are permanently exempt from all service.
In addition, the report set targets for haredi enlistment in either military or civilian service at 6,000 recruits by 2016, with an increase of 400 a year to keep pace with the rate of population growth in the haredi sector.
The recommendations also stipulated the establishment of an effective inspection system for yeshiva institutions, which the Defense Ministry would carry out in cooperation with the Education Ministry.
The document proposed that if a student were absent from yeshiva for two consecutive inspections, in addition to the sanctions on the student, the yeshiva would be fined the amount it received in state support for him.
According to the proposals, if a yeshiva has two consecutive inspections in which 25 percent or more of students are missing, the institute will lose its status as a Defense Ministry-recognized institution and be closed immediately.
Regarding the Arab sector, Plesner recommended establishing in law the obligation of service for all, including Arab citizens. He set a 2012 starting target of 2,400 for Arab enlistment, with an increase of 600 every year to reach 6,000 by 2017-18. The report also proposed that a professional team enter into dialogue with leaders in the Arab community and present conclusions within six months on the application of mandatory civilian service in the Arab sector; on the possibility of increasing incentives for Arab citizens to enter civilian service; and on the prospect of imposing sanctions on heads of authorities working actively to discourage civilian enlistment.