The rate of haredi enlistment in the IDF appears to be holding steady, despite the dire imprecations from parts of the haredi leadership following the passage of the haredi conscription law by the previous government in March 2014.
Government targets for the interim years before full implementation is to take effect also look set to be met for June 2014 to June 2015.
The previous legal framework for haredi enlistment was struck down by the High Court of Justice in February 2012, creating a massive political headache ever since for the governing coalitions.
Led by Yesh Atid, the previous government introduced a legal obligation on haredi yeshiva students to perform military service, albeit only to be fully implemented in 2017.
Until then, the legislation provides for minimum enlistment quotas of graduates of the haredi education system to the IDF and National Service.
If these are not met by 2017 then all graduates of the haredi education system will be obligated to serve in the military, except for 1,800 exceptional yeshiva students from every year.
Figures provided by the IDF show that 2,162 haredi men enlisted from July 2014 to May 11, 2015. Another 150 haredi men are expected to enlist by the end of June 2015, the end of the enlistment year, reaching just over the legislative target of 2,300.
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The 2,162 men who enlisted represent 24 percent of the haredi annual cohort for 1996, which began enlisting in 2014. However, most of those men are not likely to be from the 1996 cohort, since haredi men who do enlist typically postpone their enlistment for as long as possible.
The percentage of haredi enlistment from the total available conscripts for the 2014 enlistment year was the same as 2013, which was also 24%. The 2013 figures represented a big jump from 2012 however, when only 18% of the available conscripts enlisted.
It was feared that the stipulation of mandatory military service by the new law and the fierce reaction this evoked from the haredi leadership and from extremists in the haredi community would lead to a decline in haredi conscripts. Haredi enlistment did indeed decrease when the public debate about the law was at its height, sliding by 40 percent in the first six months of 2014, compared to the preceding six-month period.
However, as the immediate rancour over the passage of the bill passed, it appears that conscription rates have now recovered.
Shahar Ilan, deputy director of the Hiddush religious pluralism lobbying group which objected to the law passed by the last government, said that another factor in the positive enlistment numbers is the effect of Operation Protective Edge last summer, which took place as the anger against the conscription law began to fade.
During this war, there was a wave of haredi support and encouragement for soldiers serving in Gaza, and an unprecedented level of public prayers and participation in support activities for soldiers from the haredi public.
This support reached such heights that after the war, the haredi leadership, through an editorial in the largest selling haredi daily Yated Ne’eman, felt compelled to warn its public of the “dangers” of becoming too supportive of the IDF.
Despite the new conscription figures, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQI), one of the petitioners against the 2014 law, still argued that the law was not proportional to what it describes as the ongoing inequality in the burden of military service.
The group also called into question the method by which the new law defines a haredi man, which is anyone who studied for at least two years between the age of 14 and 18 in one of the educational institutions listed by the legislation as being haredi.
MQI argued that the legislation has broadened the definition of who is a haredi to help include in the official count of haredi conscripts men who might not in fact be from the mainstream haredi world.
Ilan said, however, that it is unrealistic to think that haredi conscription would in the coming years reach the same heights as conscription levels from the non-haredi sectors of the Jewish population.
Instead, he said that the sizeable 24 percent enlistment rate implies that enlistment in military service is no longer unthinkable and objectionable within haredi society, but a viable and legitimate option.
“There has been significant progress and the struggle for equality in the burden of military service is bearing partial fruit,” said Ilan. “Being a soldier might not be the biggest honor in the haredi community just yet, but a sincere change has happened and enlistment is a relevant option to young haredi men.”
However, he warned that the plans outlined in the coalition agreements of the newly formed government between the Likud and the haredi parties to lower haredi enlistment targets could ease the pressure on the haredi community for haredi men to enlist and slow the rate of conscription once again.
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