Regardless of some demonstrative posturing, the haredi political leadership is not at present ruling out the possibility of accepting the recommendations for haredi military enlistment proposed by the Defense Ministry this week.
The proposals include financial sanctions against the state yeshiva budget for failure to meet enlistment targets, something which is anathema to the haredi rabbinic and political leadership since any impediment to Torah study is seen as ideologically unacceptable.
And Shas leader Arye Deri and United Torah Judaism’s Meir Porush made this clear in no uncertain terms following publication of the recommendations.
Deri said that Shas “expresses anger at the attempt to punish those learning Torah by reducing institutional budgets” and that it would not allow “any injury to the status of yeshiva students.”
Parsed carefully however, this does not constitute a rejection of the bill, and Deri was careful to say that the leading haredi rabbis will be the ones to decide the stance taken by Shas and UTJ.
Porush was more strident, pointing to a clause, which he said, negated the ability of the Defense Minister to issue military service exemptions, which has been the case until now, and said that UTJ could therefore not agree to the draft.
However, the entire purpose of financial instead of criminal sanctions was intended to eliminate the coercive element of any new bill, so it seems unlikely that his issue cannot be overcome.
And Porush also did not reject the notion of financial sanctions.
Indeed, well placed sources told The Jerusalem Post that the UTJ MKs, especially those from the non-hassidic Degel Hatorah party, do not believe the proposals to be outrageously egregious and that with some adjustments could be acceptable.
In particular, the fact that the financial sanctions would not take hold for the first two years of the law’s existence means that there is time for the haredi parties to adjust the terms, and this could be done even after the next elections.
This would mean that there would be no necessity to do full battle with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which has flown the flag of drafting haredi men into the army, before the elections.
Were UTJ and Shas to topple the government over the issue of haredi enlistment, it would certainly become a major focus of the election and would drive voters towards Lapid, endangering the ability of the haredi parties to subsequently influence a new enlistment law.
The reason why the haredi parties have not, yet, outright denounced the proposals is because they are quite moderate in terms of the financial sanctions that would be imposed and the actual enlistment targets.
Prof. Yedidia Stern, a vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute and someone who has advised the government on haredi enlistment efforts, was highly critical of the two year delay in imposing the financial sanctions. He said that it was a political tool to afford Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu time and space to form the next government after new elections.
Stern explained that this clause would waste time in the effort to draft haredi men into the army and, combined with the clause that would void the bill if targets are not met for three successive years, could leave the state in five years time with no real improvement on haredi enlistment and no law regulating it either.the j
In addition, he pointed out the rate of increase in the enlistment targets was relatively low, starting at 8% per year for the first three years, 6.5% for the next three years, and 5% for the following four years.
The rate of growth of the haredi population is itself 4.4%, so the targets would be hard pressed to reach acceptable levels of enlistment.
And, said Stern, the actual sanctions are not very severe, amounting to “a few tens of millions of shekels” but not serious enough to create the requisite financial pressure on haredi society which would seriously increase enlistment rates.
He did say, however, that the law does at least finally introduce the idea that the failure of sufficient numbers of haredi men to enlist will have negative repercussions.
“If this law will pass as it is, at least it will symbolically put a foot in door that of the notion that if you do not meet goals there are economic consequences, this is an achievement,,” said Stern.
The Hiddush religious pluralism organization also welcomed the introduction by law of sanctions and targets, but argued that the actual terms of the proposals were “toothless” and deferred for too long.
“Essentially, the Ministry recommended postponing the implementation of these recommendations for many years, so that this hot potato should fall into the laps of future governments and the High Court of Justice,” said Hiddush director Rabbi Uri Regev.
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