Haredi enlistment slows following conscription law

IDF officials state lack of incentive to enlist on behalf of haredi yeshiva students and bureaucratic problems stand in the way of law's goals.

Soldiers and haredim 370 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Soldiers and haredim 370
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Implementation of the government’s landmark law for haredi conscription, which was passed in March, has been beset by bureaucratic problems and a seeming lack of incentive to enlist haredi yeshiva students, a Knesset committee heard on Tuesday morning.
According to Sar-Shalom Gerbi, director of the Civilian Service program that provides an alternative to military service for haredi men, the Ministry of Defense has not yet approved regulations for renewed enlistment to the Civilian Service since the law was passed, which has led to a complete halt in recruitment to the program.
Enlistment to the Civilian Service was frozen at the beginning of this year because there was no legal framework for it following the expiration of the Tal Law in August 2012.
But it was a vital component of the new law, and those enlisting to it count toward the fulfillment of increasing government targets for haredi enlistment.
The new law should have allowed renewed recruitment to the Civilian Service, but the required regulations have not been passed, preventing enlistment despite the passage of the law.
In addition, Gerbi said that since the law was passed only 20 people out of the approximately 2,400 haredi men who have reported to the army induction center since the law passed expressed interest in enlisting to the program.
Because the Civilian Service has not been able to enlist recruits, the target for haredi enlistment to the Civilian Service for July 2013 - July 2014, which was 1,300 men, will be missed.
In light of this shortcoming, MK Ayelet Shaked, who is heading the committee charged with oversight for implementation of the law, requested during the hearing that the government reduce the required target for enlistment to the Civilian Service by a third – because of the bureaucratic failure.
If enlistment targets for haredi men are not met by 2017 then criminal sanctions would be applied to yeshiva students who fail to enlist.
In addition to the civilian service recruitment problems, the statistics for enlistment to the IDF presented at the hearing were also problematic.
According to numbers presented by IDF officers in Tuesday’s committee hearing, 2,996 yeshiva students aged 22-28 were summoned to the army induction center – to either enlist or gain the full exemption available to them under the terms of the new law.
Of those who reported when summoned, only approximately 1,100, or 38 percent, have actually presented themselves at the induction center. One man enlisted to the IDF while the others opted for the full exemption.
The law for haredi conscription provides full exemptions, either immediately or in the coming years, to anyone who was 18 and over on the day the bill was passed, so motivation to enlist before mandatory enlistment is imposed in 2017 will likely be low.
Of the approximately 3,357 yeshiva students aged 18-22 who have been requested by the IDF to present themselves at the induction center to date, only 40%, or approximately 1,300, have done so.
People in this age bracket may defer their military service until the age of 26 – when they will be eligible for a full exemption.
The IDF officials reported that enlistment targets for 2013/2014 were practically met, with 1,972 haredim enlisting – the target was set at 2,000.
However, the overwhelming majority of these recruits most likely enlisted before the law was enacted.
The IDF officials in the hearing did not give a breakdown of enlistment figures by month but were requested to do so by next week.
They acknowledged, however, that enlistment rates had decreased since the law was passed.
“In recent months we’ve seen a slow-down in the number of haredim enlisting to the IDF,” the officer said. “This decline is explained, according to our understanding, by the [negative] discourse that developed in the haredi street in light of the passage of the new law.”
He was referring to the fierce attacks by radical elements within the haredi community against IDF service – which took place while the law was under debate in the Knesset.
According to the army officers present in the hearing, the reason the percentage of those summoned to the IDF induction center were so low was due to technical problems with the processing system.
However, it is feared that a significant percentage of those who received the summons refused to report on ideological grounds.
MK Elazar Stern lambasted officials from the Defense Ministry during the hearing for failing to draft regulations that would allow the Civilian Service Directorate to enlist those yeshiva students released from IDF service.
“This is an embarrassing humiliation, it’s unthinkable that drafting these regulations should take more than a month,” Stern said.
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev, who vigorously opposed the imposition of criminal sanctions on haredi draft dodgers in the new law, called the decline in enlistment “the fruits of the coercive law,” and blamed Yesh Atid, which led its campaign, for the problems revealed in Tuesday’s hearing.
“In practice, the atmosphere on the haredi street as a result of this law has become opposed to enlistment,” Yogev said. “The Law for Equality in the Burden of Military Service will [in the future] be thought of as ‘the injurious law’ to the enlistment and participation of haredim in the IDF and the Civilian Service... Only dialogue with the haredi leadership, not coercive legislation, will strengthen haredi enlistment.”
Shahar Ilan, the deputy director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group criticized the bureaucratic failings. He said the precedent set by the committee to request that the enlistment targets be changed was very troubling. Ilan also noted that the failure of approximately 60% of those summoned to the IDF induction center to report was equally worrying.
The large number could indicate that some of those who refused to report were conducting a civil rebellion, he said.