The government wants to encourage – but not force – haredim to serve, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday, before the Knesset approved in a first reading an amendment to defer mandatory ultra-Orthodox conscription until 2023.
Ya’alon said the government will continue trying to reach annual goal numbers of haredim in civilian and IDF service “through cooperation, while creating real ways to reach this goal.
“This is the most important discussion for Israeli society, from a historical perspective. The question of who serves is an open wound in Israel society,” Ya’alon said.
The defense minister said he believes strongly in the legislation, because it would facilitate service without forcing it.
“We are enabling a haredi lifestyle [in the IDF], matching someone to a unit with the right character, providing mehadrin kosher food, devoting time to Torah study during the day, and more,” he explained, adding that 5,000 haredim are serving in the IDF and those who finish service are able to find jobs more easily.
Ya’alon called for a halt to “populist political talk,” which he said only reduces the number of haredim serving and joining the workforce, and welcomed discourse that allows integration.
According to the amendment, the date for mandatory haredi enlistment, which under the law passed in 2014 is set to begin in June 2017, would be pushed back to 2020.
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Between 2020 and 2023, fulltime ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students will be obligated to serve in either military or civilian service, but the defense minister will have the authority to exempt yeshiva students even if the government targets are not met. In 2023, the coalition will either have to extend the law or let it expire.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid wondered what to tell his son, an IDF soldier, about the bill.
“What will I tell him? That his highest commander [Ya’alon] sold him out for coalition politics?” Lapid asked. “You are lying at the expense of IDF soldiers. There is no logic here, just small, pathetic political corruption.”
Similarly, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman pointed out that Shas and United Torah Judaism refused to vote for the state budget if the conscription bill did not go to a vote first.
“There is nothing more cynical than discussions canceling equality in the burden at this time, when we see security challenges daily,” he said.
Liberman also repeated his accusation that the Likud is betraying its nationalist ideology and allowing the haredi parties to “replace Zionism with clericism.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said he “never believed in humiliating and excluding groups on Israeli society, but rather in dialogue and integration and understanding social processes.”
Herzog said that when the law was passed two years ago together with electoral reform and law requiring a referendum on sovereign land concessions, Labor boycotted the vote, because it felt haredi conscription is worthy of a more serious parliamentary debate.
“And here we are today, with the coalition repeating the same sin, in a petty deal together with the budget and the WZO Settlement Division. We think this is a social process that has to be undertaken wisely,” he said.
MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (UTJ) pointed out that Yesh Atid, the current law’s biggest proponent, wants haredim to take part in the workforce, yet it passed a law that would give many haredim criminal records, making it harder for them to work.
Yesh Atid wisecracked about Moses’s comparison of the law to policies in Russia under the Czar Nicholas, with MK Yoel Razbozov thanking him for the Russian history lesson and wondering why he didn’t mention Catherine the Great.
UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler posited that there are more people than necessary in the army.
“Mandatory conscription has become a divisive factor, and we need to move to voluntary enlistment. The whole story of mandatory conscription is anachronistic,” he said.
The bill was approved in a first reading with 60 MKs in favor – the entire coalition, except for MK Oren Hazan (Likud) who was hospitalized due to an asthma attack – and 45 opposed.
Joint List MKs skipped the vote.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.
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