Four hundred recruits join haredi IDF programs

Haredi identity of new conscripts called into question.

Haredi IDF soldiers 370 (photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
Haredi IDF soldiers 370
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
Around 400 young men enlisted to haredi IDF tracks on Thursday and were welcomed to the army by a gaggle of MKs, including Kadima leader and former defense minister and IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz.
Of the new recruits, who arrived at the IDF induction center at the Tel Hashomer military base, approximately 300 joined the Netzah Yehuda battalion for haredi soldiers, while around 100 enlisted to the IDF’s Shahar program, which places haredi recruits in technological units in the air force and navy.
Although the IDF and several MKs declared that the 400 new recruits were haredi, doubts were raised as to the true societal identification of the new conscripts.
Recruits who were seen arriving at the induction center were noticeable for the diversity of their attire, which was not in keeping with the general haredi standard of black suits and white shirts.
MK Mordechai Yogev of Bayit Yehudi admitted that a large contingent of the recruits was not from the “haredi mainstream.”
“To tell the truth, not all recruits are from the haredi mainstream, especially those enlisting to the Nahal Haredi,” Yogev told The Jerusalem Post.
“The recruits to Shahar are more from the mainstream.
However, they are more mature recruits, around the age of 22, married, and have spent a considerable amount of years in yeshiva.”
Yogev said that according to his estimates, 50 percent of recruits to Netzah Yehuda were haredi, with others coming from “other ends of the scale.”
“Some are marginal youth; that’s correct. But the army is suitable for them as a framework, and we should encourage this,” the MK said, adding that he believed about 40% of the recruits to Nahal Haredi were from the “hardal” conservative national-religious sector.
MK Omer Bar-Lev of Labor, the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee for Human Resources in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, insisted that haredi enlistment was on the rise and said that 2,000 haredi men were expected to enlist in 2013, up from 1,500 in 2012.
Bar-Lev also acknowledged that some of the recruits were not from the haredi mainstream, noting that that a proportion of them fell into the category known as “youth who have been left behind,” that is, who have not succeeded in the yeshiva environment.
Mofaz reiterated his opinion that the IDF was in need of haredi manpower and that there is substantive service available for haredi recruits.
“Despite claims to the contrary, the IDF needs haredi recruits, full stop, and so we need to draft them,” the Kadima leader said.
Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman said that the identity of the recruits should not be determined on the basis of their outward appearance. He noted that the MKs met with the new recruits in a private meeting where they described themselves as God-fearing but were not able to learn in yeshiva all day and so had decided to enlist.
Lipman added that for more mainstream haredi youth, new programs are being put in place, such as a hesder yeshiva for haredim to allow those who are in full-time study to continue with their studies while serving.
The MKs also addressed the Peri bill on haredi enlistment currently making its way through the legislative process.
Yogev told the Post that he believed there was a decline in the number of haredim enlisting because of the hostile atmosphere that has been generated by “coercive” clauses in the new legislation. He was referring to stipulations in the bill that those refusing to serve be subject to imprisonment, like all other Jewish Israelis.
Yogev said such proposals were damaging the cause of increasing haredi enlistment.
There has been a recent spate of attacks against religious soldiers who have entered haredi neighborhoods, a phenomenon attributed to a vigorous campaign of delegitimization against haredi men enlisting in the IDF.
“There is a vocal minority that thinks that it is possible to change things by coercion. You can’t change things like this, and such efforts will only cause damage. I hope this minority will understand this and that together we will bring a law that increases trust and strengthens the process of haredi enlistment,” Yogev said.
Lipman labelled Bayit Yehudi’s attacks against the Peri bill as “political” in nature. He pointed out that he was, however, not in favor of the clauses providing for criminal sanctions against those refusing to enlist, but said that these provisions had been impossible to avoid based on advice from legal advisers from the Justice Ministry.
“I agree 100% that [these clauses] are not helpful,” Lipman said, and noted that there may be some changes made to the bill by the Special Knesset Committee currently reviewing the legislation.
“At the same time, we’re trying to go out of our way to accommodate haredi requirements.
The process of integration will take time; it won’t happen overnight. It will take two generations before it becomes more of a mainstream idea. We have to be patient, but we also have to start the process, and the only way to start the process is through a law that actually makes something happen.”