Analysis: For the haredi world, a casus belli

Threats of imprisonment and force play into the hands of the extremists and justify their calls for isolation.

By
May 30, 2013 01:41
4 minute read.
ULTRA-ORTHODOX men gather in the Romema neighborhood in the capital to protest serving in the army

Haredi anti-draft protest 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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With the confirmation by the Peri Committee on Wednesday that haredi refusal to perform national service would ultimately result in imprisonment, the inevitable angry denunciations from haredi lawmakers came thick and fast.

United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman said that the Peri recommendations reflected a marked disconnect from reality and would not be implemented.

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MK Moshe Gafni, also of UTJ, said that the bill marked a “black day for the State of Israel” and was an “indelible stain” on the country.

And UTJ MK Meir Porush said Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid had no idea what he was talking about.

“Many public figures in Israeli society see this law as an illegitimate trend, driven by hatred for those who learn Torah and out of a desire to make political capital and nothing else,” argued Porush.

The fact that this kind of reaction was utterly predictable and has been repeated in the past ad infinitum by the haredi leadership, should not detract from the fact that, with regard to the implementation of the law the Peri Committee has drafted, these MKs are probably correct.

For the interim period of the bill, it is extremely difficult to see why any haredi yeshiva students will elect to enlist. The bill allows anyone over 22 to request an immediate and total exemption from his national service obligations and to then join the workforce, and permits those aged 19-22 to defer enlistment until age 24 and then be granted their full exemption.



Those aged 18 and under when the law is passed will be obligated to enlist, but may defer their enlistment by three years, meaning that they will only be required to start national service by 2016.

Currently, haredi enlistment to military and civilian service stands at approximately 30 percent of the annual enlistment potential of the haredi sector.

Upon completion of their service, 87% integrate into the workforce, a major motivating factor behind their enlistment in the first place.

But with the blanket national service exemption provided by the provisions of the Peri Committee, all current haredi yeshiva students can continue to study in yeshiva at their leisure and then join the workforce if they so wish, when they so wish.

Yet the enlistment target set by the Peri Committee for 2013 is 3,300 recruits, with that figure rising to 5,200 by 2016.

According to both Prof.

Yedidya Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute and the Hiddush religious-freedom advocacy and lobbying organization, the result of the Peri Committee proposals will be a dramatic reduction in haredi enlistment in the interim period since there will be little motivation or incentive to enlist.

As for the terms for the law’s permanent stage, to be implemented in 2017, it is hard to imagine a provision more likely to thwart haredi cooperation with the state than that proposed by the Peri Committee, which calls for the imprisonment of a yeshiva student who refuses to serve.

Stern, who sat on the Plesner Committee that dealt with the issue in the previous Knesset, said this proposal constitutes a “casus belli” against the haredi world. Said Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, “the decision to enforce the enlistment of yeshiva students by means of imprisonment and not economic sanctions testifies to a total lack of understanding of haredi society and of the state’s law enforcement capabilities.”

According to Stern, just the proposal to imprison yeshiva students for not serving will in all likelihood provide the extremist rabbinic leadership with the opportunity to take control of the haredi world and its ideology.

The rabbinical radicals have long claimed that the Zionists simply want to destroy haredi society, and they will now be able to back up their hypothesis by pointing to the recommendations of the Peri Committee.

It seems probable that the interim targets for enlistment will not be met, which would mean budget cuts for the yeshivas.

This would raise tensions between the haredi community and the government, so that in 2017 – when the law requires the imprisonment of draftevaders – masses of haredi yeshiva students will, on instructions from their rabbis and yeshiva deans, refuse, and thereby be subject to imprisonment.

The Council of Rabbinic Sages of the Agudat Yisrael movement, which represents the hassidic haredi community, said back in February, “Even if they want to take you to jail, and if they want to remove your rights and decree upon you poverty... do not fear, because God will be with you to sanctify his name with love.”

As pointed out by Regev and Stern, the state is not equipped to imprison thousands of haredim, but the failure to do so could greatly harm the principle of the rule of law.

Perversely, the elements of haredi society that are opposed to military service and integration into the workforce are the ones that will be most satisfied with the outcome of the Peri Committee.

The haredi daily Hapeles, which is the mouthpiece of an extreme haredi grouping known as the Jerusalem Faction and led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, wrote several months ago in an editorial that the more measured, less confrontational proposals which have been suggested of late were in fact more dangerous than plans providing for a coercive draft.

The reason is simple: Threats of imprisonment and force play into the hands of the extremists and justify their calls for isolation.

The Jerusalem Faction can be happy that the moderate path has thus far been rejected. •

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