High Court to state: Own up to how many Haredim are joining IDF

The order was given after the NGO, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, told the High Court that the state was delaying, fudging numbers and interpreting selective statistics.

April 20, 2015 19:53
3 minute read.
Haredim protest in Mea She’arim

Haredim take part in a protest in Mea She’arim against the municipality opening a nearby road on Shabbat.. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)


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After a number of delays on the issue, an NGO announced on Monday that the High Court of Justice has ordered the state to produce exact and comprehensive statistics on the number of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) who have joined the IDF since 2012.

The order was given after the NGO, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, told the High Court that the state was delaying, fudging numbers and interpreting selective statistics instead of providing full statistics for others to analyze, including comparing the maximum number of haredim of draft age to how many joined up.

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Being forced to unveil the fuller picture of statistics could put both public relations and legal pressure on the state regarding whether the law is working and should be salvaged or discarded.

The decision was handed down on April 16, but only sent out days later and only announced on Monday as part of the NGO’s petition to strike the landmark March 2014 law on the issue.

All of this occurs in the context of negotiations over the coalition, which is expected to include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreeing to United Torah Judaism and Shas demands for dropping core pieces of the law, such as that haredim can be criminally sanctioned for avoiding the draft.

That law was focused on integrating haredim into the IDF, national service and the work force, but the movement has argued that it is still unequal and grants too much favored treatment to the ultra-Orthodox.

The primary stated purpose of the law was revolutionary: To increase haredi participation in the IDF and national service by 2017 by several thousand participants per year over the small percentage who have been serving until now.

The movement has attacked the law on multiple grounds, including its lack of requiring universal service, its permitting many haredim who serve to defer their service from age 18 to 21 and its incremental approach of increasing haredi participation over the next three years.

It says that non-haredim must serve when called-up above the age of 18, with no categorical exceptions or delays either related to age or achieving incremental progress.

The NGO said that the nine-justice panel presided over by then-Supreme Court president Asher D. Grunis agreed with its premise that the law was unequal, and spent much of the hearing questioning the state as to the scope of the inequality.

The justices’ questions seemed to suggest that the state was reserving for itself too much discretion in how long to try to achieve quotas and regarding what sanctions would apply if quotas were not met, as well as when those sanctions would kick in.

The state argued that the law is a massive improvement, but the historical context is complex and patience and discretion are needed so as not to alienate the ultra-Orthodox community.

In September 2014, former Science, Technology and Space minister Yaakov Peri took heavy criticism in a public debate over whether haredi enlistment has risen or dropped since the law passed.

Peri’s office released statistics for haredi conscription between July 2013 and July 2014 that showed a 39 percent rise in the number of haredi men drafted into the IDF over the figures for the previous year.

However, the conscription rate for the second half of 2013, before the law was passed, was significantly higher than that in the first half of 2014, when the haredi leadership waged a strong battle against the March 2014 law.

In July 2014, the Knesset oversight committee for the implementation of the law heard from IDF officials that between July and December 2013 inclusively, 1,235 ultra-Orthodox men were drafted. But from January to June 2014 inclusive, just 737 were drafted, a decline of 40% over the previous six-month period.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this story.

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