Haredi enlistment, then election

The lack of haredim in the IDF is a matter of national importance that has been on the political agenda of many governments and Knessets.

November 15, 2018 20:56
3 minute read.
Young haredim take part in a protest against mandatory IDF conscription, March 2018

Young haredim take part in a protest against mandatory IDF conscription, March 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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After Avigdor Liberman announced his resignation from the Defense Ministry, the entire political system went into a frenzy. The question wasn’t so much whether there will be an early election, but when that election will be.

As Sisyphean as the task might seem, the coalition should make sure to pass the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) military enlistment law before it votes to dissolve the Knesset and go to an election.

The lack of haredim in the IDF is a matter of national importance that has been on the political agenda of many governments and Knessets, since the 1999 Tal Law officially granting exemptions for haredim and Arabs from mandatory military service – exceptions that were the norm but not the law until then. The dissolution of the Plesner Committee on whether to renew or replace the Tal Law in 2012 led to the crumbling of that coalition and the 2013 early elections. It also contributed greatly to the rise of Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party.

It is an issue that is on the minds of many Israelis, as they dedicate years to the country and send their children to do the same, often risking their lives.

In September 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the government must come up with a more egalitarian situation than the current one, where haredi 18-year-olds are exempt from IDF service while the rest of Israel’s Jewish population is subject to a mandatory draft. This decision came after the previous Knesset – with a haredi-free coalition – passed a law setting rising enlistment targets and after the current one, with Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) in the government, canceled it without replacing it.

The deadline for enacting a new law was originally one year – which passed over a month ago – and then was postponed until December 2018. Since the beginning of this year, there have been major political machinations behind the scenes to try to get a new law passed, leading to repeated coalition crises.

Liberman formed a committee in the Defense Ministry to draft legislation, with Shas and UTJ’s non-hassidic party, Degel Hatorah, agreeing not to block the bill from passing. Agudat Yisrael, UTJ’s hassidic party, has not reached any agreement on the matter. But that is of lesser concern at this point, since an election is likely to be called soon anyway.

Yesh Atid agreed to support the bill from the opposition, tipping the scales toward a majority in favor. Liberman said in his resignation press conference on Wednesday that he will not support the law if “even one comma” is changed. But even if Yisrael Beytenu opposes the law, there is still a safe margin for it to pass.

The way the bill currently stands, it sets targets for haredi enlistment in the IDF or national civilian service that rise each year over the next decade.

If the targets are not met, there will be financial penalties against the state’s budget for yeshivas that will also increase each year. The financial sanctions will be waived for the first two years of the law’s existence.

If the targets are missed for three years in a row after the first two years, the law will be voided, and all haredi men will be subject to the mandatory draft.

The bill is not perfect and will not lead to full equality in the burden of national service. Israeli Arabs should also be required to serve the country in some form. There is plenty they can do for their own communities, and the number of Israeli Arabs doing national civil service rises each year.

But it is a step in the right direction, and an important one for our country to take after so many years of agonizing over this point.

The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon wrote this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to wait until after the March 24 AIPAC conference to hold an election, so he can dazzle Israelis with an impressive speech and the standing ovations he is likely to receive. If he can hold off for a personal political reason, surely Netanyahu can find a way to stave off the coalition’s collapse just a little longer for a matter of national importance – the passing of a haredi enlistment law.

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