Compromise reached in enlistment controversy

Quota of 1,800 yeshiva students will be able to receive exemptions; there will be a significant blow to yeshiva funds.

A haredi soldier prays during a drill (photo credit: IDF Spokesman))
A haredi soldier prays during a drill
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman))
Details of the terms for a bill regulating national service for haredi men emerged on Thursday following the tentative agreement between Likud Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi to form a government on Wednesday evening.
However, a final deal was yet to be signed by press time on Thursday night.
According to Bayit Yehudi sources, there will be a quota of 1,800 yeshiva students every year who will be able to obtain full national service exemptions, a large increase from the 400 demanded by Yesh Atid.
Approximately 7,000 haredi men turn 18 every year.
The 1,800 students exempt from service will receive ongoing state support until age 26, and at a higher rate than currently granted. All other yeshiva students will be able to postpone their national service for three years until the age of 21, but will not be funded after that age.
A yeshiva student with a government-granted military exemption will be subject to financial penalties if he halts his full-time studies before the age of 26.
If a yeshiva student refuses to enlist in the IDF or civilian service after the age of 21 he will be subject to economic sanctions but, crucially, not criminal charges.
Details of the different economic penalties are not yet clear, but ideas that have been floated in various plans have included the revocation of discounts for child daycare and a subsidized housing benefits tax that full-time yeshiva students have enjoyed until now, along with other similar penalties.
These combined measures would constitute a significant blow to yeshiva budgets and the overall haredi purse.
The damage such a law would do to the financial viability of yeshivot and, if personal financial sanctions are indeed imposed, to the average haredi family, will be heavy and may leave many men no choice but to join the workforce or enlist.
Financial incentives will be granted to those electing to serve in order to encourage enlistment. In a significant move, anyone electing not to enlist after 21 will be able to join the workforce, something which until now has not been possible until the age of exemption, currently 28, but previously as old as 35.
This, a Bayit Yehudi source said, would extricate haredi men from the trap of not wanting to enlist and thus being unable to enter the workforce and contribute to the economy.
These terms represent a serious compromise on the issue from Yesh Atid, but will nevertheless be bitterly opposed by the haredi spiritual and political leadership, even though the proposed solution to haredi enlistment does not criminalize those refusing to perform national service and allows them to continue studying in yeshiva.
According to the coalition agreement, the length of military service for all soldiers will be reduced from three years to two and the legislation on enlistment will be brought to the Knesset within 45 days of the new government being sworn in.
Such a law would inflict deep cuts to the budgets of yeshivot for unmarried students and to the pockets of married students in full-time study and would present a serious challenge to the ongoing viability of continuous, indefinite full-time study after the age of 21.
Shahar Ilan, deputy director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group, said that if the proposed measures are implemented, it would constitute a “revolution” in Israeli society.
He added however that in the short term, it could well lead to strong opposition from the haredi leadership and public involving civil disobedience on par with the actions of the hard-core of the settler movement leading up to the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.
“The idea that haredim think differently than the rest of the public and are not affected by financial considerations is ridiculous,” Ilan said.
“They need to feed themselves and their children and if they can only do this by going to the workforce instead of learning, then they will go to work.”