IDF soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda Haredi infantry battalion are seen during their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In June, some haredi yeshivot distributed a pamphlet that compared IDF enlistment officers to Nazi selectors who stood “at the gates of death in Auschwitz” and decided who would live or die. In August, hundreds blocked roads and threw stones at police in protest against the arrest of a haredi man for refusing to appear at the IDF induction office. In September, a haredi soldier was assaulted while praying at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, an occurrence more common in strictly haredi neighborhoods.
On Friday, a man who had been threatening Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan for promoting haredi enlistment was arrested.
Haredi leaders and functionaries are nervous. They are losing control over the faithful and being forced into increasingly extreme measures as part of a futile effort to prevent the inevitable: normalization of the haredi community.
Earlier this year, Ben-Dahan convened a joint committee of representatives from the IDF, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Israel Police to discuss how to better deal with the incitement campaign and with complaints of harassment against haredi soldiers and enlistment activists.
But no amount of flyers, posters, public notices, booklets, verbal abuse, or physical assaults will prevent young haredi men from extricating themselves from a life of poverty.
Because the road to the labor market passes through the IDF or National Service, large numbers of haredim who are unable to obtain exemptions are opting increasingly to enlist via IDF frameworks specially tailored to reduce the inevitable tensions between a life of strict religious observance and military service.
According to data presented to President Reuven Rivlin in August, the number of haredi men inducted into the IDF increased by 500 to 3,200 in 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
Ben-Dahan has been active in promoting the establishment of a new haredi combat company in the Paratroopers Brigade, which is currently recruiting soldiers until December. The company will accept approximately 80 soldiers.
Ben-Dahan has also promoted haredi enlistment to the Tomer Company of haredi soldiers in the Givati Brigade.
Various strategies have been suggested for boosting haredi enlistment. In April a report composed by an inter-ministerial team headed by then-director general of the Defense Ministry Dan Harel suggested that the government examine the possibility of offering economic incentives. Discount prices on homes, government subsidies to yeshivot that produced students who joined the IDF and other steps were recommended.
However, we agree with Gilad Malach, head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s “Haredim in Israel” program. He argues that economic incentives are not only ineffective, but deepen the inequality between haredi soldiers who volunteer to serve and non-haredi soldiers who are obligated to serve and receive no economic benefits.
On the other hand, the haredi enlistment legislation passed by the previous government was amended by the present one, so that it now discriminates against non-haredim who are subject to criminal proceedings for not serving. The amendment, pushed by the government coalition’s haredi members, exempts haredim from such criminal proceedings.
Yesh Atid and others who helped pass the original legislation protested the amendment. Ultimately, the High Court will decide the matter, but will likely strike down the amendment because it discriminates against non-haredim.
Attempts to coerce haredim to enlist have not been particularly successful. Haredim tend to rebel against such attempts. Even those who might have enlisted if IDF service was optional, often choose not to do so in protest.
There are no easy solutions. Yet we believe, over time, more young haredi men will realize that – for the sake of their own self-realization and for the sake of their families – it is in their best interest to perform military service or national service and integrate into the labor market.
Extremists, nervous about losing control, will likely escalate their attempts to prevent this from happening.
We should be prepared for this. But we should also take comfort that they are fighting a losing battle.