Peri c'tee holds marathon discussions on proposals

Ya'alon objects to criminal sanctions against haredim refusing to serve; Hatnua demands extending service in Hesder program.

By
May 26, 2013 23:17
4 minute read.
Haredi IDF soldiers in the Jordan Valley

Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)

Several members of the Peri Committee – which has been tasked with drawing up legislation for drafting haredi men into national service – expressed opposition to a number of provisions of the draft legislation drawn up over the past two months, ahead of a committee meeting which began on Sunday evening.

The committee convened to discuss the reservations expressed by party representatives with respect to the draft legislation publicized on Thursday, with discussions continuing into the night. Although there are numerous points of argument between the ministers serving on the committee, sources close to the members expressed confidence that all issues would be resolved during the night session.

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Two concrete agreements have emerged thus far from Sunday night’s meeting: permanent exemptions for 1,800 yeshiva students every year, out of an annual intake that currently stands at between 7,000 to 8,000 haredi men annually; and a clause whereby hesder service would be extended from 16 months to 17.

Other issues under discussion, such as criminal sanctions against those refusing to enlist and the issue of Arab enlistment, had still not been broached by press time.

Among the more controversial terms of the Thursday’s outline was the potential imprisonment of someone refusing to serve, as well as the possibility of criminal charges against a yeshiva dean who submits inaccurate reports about student attendance.

Speaking at a ceremony for a pre-military academy in Jerusalem, Defense Minister and Peri Committee member Moshe Ya’alon of the Likud said that the way to achieve haredi enlistment “is by encouraging and enabling integration, not by creating a process of delegitimization and hatred.

“A situation which developed over the course of 65 years can’t be changed with decision, but through creating a gradual process without talking about a Torah student going to prison or threats of criminal sanctions,” Ya’alon continued.

“Some people will say that this is not equality, and that’s true, but this is the only way to bring more Israeli youth to take responsibility.”

The provisions covering haredi enlistment were not the only obstacles to an agreement.

The Hatnua party issued a statement saying that it would only support the legislation if it were amended so that participants in the hesder program – which combines 16 months of army service with three-and-a-half years of yeshiva study for national-religious men – would be obligated to serve in the army for as long as haredi men.

“The point is to create equality in the share of the burden of national service, but the proposed outline distorts the principle in whose name it has been embarked upon,” the statement said.

Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel told Army Radio, however, that Bayit Yehudi was only prepared to increase hesder army service by one month, arguing that a high percentage of hesder participants go on to officer courses and lengthier service than the 16 months prescribed in the hesder framework.

Uriel also took exception to the provisions for criminal sanctions against those refusing to serve, claiming that there was no support for it on the committee.

“Everyone is against [criminal sanctions against heads of yeshivas whose students do not enlist], and there are agreements on this matter. We do not think that criminal punishments will change the situation; all research shows that entire groups cannot be treated as criminals,” said Ariel.

He added, however, that anyone not serving and choosing not to study Torah should be subject to economic sanctions, although such measures, financial penalties against individuals, were noticeably absent from the draft bill.

Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan added to this sentiment, stating that Bayit Yehudi would work to remove the provisions for the imposition of criminal charges on those refusing to serve and yeshiva deans.

“We believe that we must encourage the haredi public to enlist to the army, but not through coercion or sanctions or inciting hatred,” Ben-Dahan said at an IDF swearing-in ceremony for haredi soldiers.

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu ministers continued to express opposition to any bill which does not include mandatory national service for the Arab population.

The draft bill proposes reaching a target of 6,000 Arab recruits a year for the civilian service program five years after the enactment of the law, but this has not sufficed to meet the demands of Yisrael Beytenu.

“Yisrael Beytenu’s stance has been consistent and clear over the years,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said ahead of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “We reject this unequal solution offered in the name of inequality. The Independence Scroll talks about equality without difference of race, religion or gender, and we need to aim for that.”

Landau asked why the Peri Committee thought it was legitimate to force haredim to serve, but not Israeli Arabs.

“Equality means equality for all,” he said.


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