Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid spar over haredi enlistment bill

Shaked hopes to raise enlistment age to up to 26, cancel criminal sanctions; Shelah: What kind of equality is that?

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October 1, 2013 15:55
3 minute read.
New recruits arrive at IDF Induction center on to join haredi army programs, August 1, 2013.

Haredi IDF soldiers 370. (photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)

 
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The warm relations between Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi might be cooling, as the latter pressed for significant changes in the haredi enlistment bill this week.

The Knesset’s Committee for Sharing the Burden, led by Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, who is dealing with the enlistment bill originally drafted by a ministerial committee led by Yesh Atid Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, is working to “fix bugs” in the legislation, according to a Bayit Yehudi source.

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Those “bugs,” however, are the points most important to Yesh Atid: enlistment by age 21, exemptions for only 1,800 exceptional yeshiva students and criminal sanctions for draft-dodgers, as mandated by the Peri bill.

The debate began when a Shaked Committee legal adviser pointed to a lacuna in the Peri bill’s wording that would allow haredim up to age 26 to meet enlistment target numbers, rather than only those up to age 21.

This would lead to a lower number of haredim actually joining the IDF, because the older they are, the more expensive they are for the army, which pays more according to the number of children the soldier has. As such, the IDF would likely reject many older haredi enlistees.

Shaked proposed to keep the legislation as is. Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah, however, said it “contradicts the meaning of the bill. What kind of equality is this?” "This cannot be and it won’t work,” Shelah stated.

Brig.-Gen. Gadi Agmon, the IDF representative at the meeting, said that keeping the lacuna in the bill goes against agreements between the army and the Peri Committee.

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Bayit Yehudi is demanding other changes to the Peri bill as well. The party hopes to remove the part of the current version mandating that four years after the law is voted in, if haredim don’t reach enlistment target numbers, there will be criminal sanctions against anyone meeting enlistment criteria who does not join the IDF or national service – except for 1,800 outstanding Torah students.

Bayit Yehudi opposes criminal sanctions against haredim who do not enlist and seeks to continue the system of target numbers, regardless of whether they are met or not.

A source close to Shaked explained that when there are target numbers, rabbis in charge of haredi yeshivas will send the less-serious students to the army.

As for criminal sanctions, “haredim won’t enlist if they feel threatened; they’ll just say ‘try us,’” the source stated.

Another Bayit Yehudi source said the party has little problem breaking agreements with Yesh Atid.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid leader, “has broken understandings” with Bayit Yehudi’s leader, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett. “I don’t know how much anyone in Bayit Yehudi cares about that at the moment.”

”Bayit Yehudi keeps trying to improve its relations with the haredim,” a source close to Shelah complained.

“Keeping that article in the bill empties it of content.”

The Yesh Atid source explained that if enlistment target numbers applied to ages 18-26, only 5% of each age group would serve, defeating the bill’s purpose. Still, she was confident that Yesh Atid has majority support both in the coalition and in the Shaked Committee, and that the legislation will remain as the party intended.

While the parties seem to be at an impasse, both said talk of a coalition crisis is overblown.

According to the Yesh Atid source, Shaked and Shelah speak daily and agree on the basic goals of the bill.

"We’re not interested blowing things up. We want an outline that Yesh Atid and the haredim can agree on. It’ll be tough, but that’s our goal,” the source close to Shaked said.

Earlier this month, Lapid told The Jerusalem Post that Bennett “is an ally and a friend” and there would be no reason for their partnership to end.

"We disagree on the peace process, but he says as long as we haven’t started evacuating settlements, he can stay in the coalition. We still talk almost every day,” Lapid said.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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