Gov’t to discuss haredi enlistment legislation

Gov’t establishes panel to formulate legislation on enlistment for haredim.

Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
The government formally announced on Sunday the establishment and membership of the committee that will form legislation to increase haredi enlistment in national service programs.
The committee will be headed by Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid and will be required to produce draft legislation within 49 days of the swearing-in of the new government, which took place on March 18.
This gives the committee until May 6 to devise new legislation. It will convene for the first time in the coming days, a spokesman for Peri said.
Accompanying Peri, a former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director, on the panel will be Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, both of Likud Beytenu; Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi; and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz of Hatnua – representing all four coalition parties and Likud Beytenu, which formed a joint list before the general election in January.
Peri said at the cabinet meeting that the short time period for drafting the legislation would require a serious effort from both the committee members and the relevant government ministries in order to get the bill prepared.
“The task which stands before us is to create a situation in which the value of service in the Israel Defense Forces and the civilian service, and the value of work, are supreme values which will be placed within a framework of checks and balances alongside the value of Torah study, in order to create true equality in the share of the burden of national service,” said Peri.
The coalition agreement between Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu stipulates that the legislation will provide national service exemptions for only 1,800 haredi yeshiva students above the age of 21 per year, in contrast to former arrangements where anyone wanting to study full time in yeshiva could do so.
Some 7,000 ultra-Orthodox men turn 18 every year and there are currently around 45,000 full-time haredi yeshiva students.
According to the terms of the agreement, anyone refusing to serve without an exemption will be subject to personal economic sanctions, although these were not defined in the coalition deal, while yeshivot with high percentages of students who refuse to serve will also have financial penalties levied against them.
The haredi leadership is currently holding its fire on the enlistment issue but this may change when details of the bill begin to emerge.
The committee members are seen by the haredi world as relatively moderate on the issue of enlistment, and the fact that the full terms of the legislation will only be implemented in four years is also something that has calmed nerves in the community.
According to haredi journalist Yisroel Cohen who writes for the Kikar Hashabbat news site, it will be the severity of financial sanctions against individuals that will determine the degree to which the haredi spiritual leadership will oppose the legislation.
If the financial sanctions are severe enough to have a significant impact on the financial viability of the average haredi household, then the law will to all intents and purposes be as coercive as if it were to stipulate that draft evasion would be punishable by imprisonment, said Cohen.
The legislation will go into effect in 2017.
In the interim, the state will set increasing enlistment targets for haredi men aged 18-21 for both IDF and civilian service, starting at 3,300 in 2013 and rising to 5,600 by 2016. Anyone 22 and over will be given a permanent exemption if they request one.
Peri’s spokesman was optimistic that legislation could be agreed upon without undue disagreement since the two most contentious issues, the principle of personal economic sanctions and the maximum age of enlistment, set at 21, have already been established in the coalition agreement.
The Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group criticized the four-year implementation period, saying it was postponing the problem for the next government.
“This plan will ensure that in another four years implementing the law will be significantly harder and the historic opportunity which was created with the establishment of this government will be lost,” said Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On criticized the composition of the committee for not including any women.
“How unsurprising is it that there are no women on the committee appointed by the government to examine ‘equality in the burden,’” said Gal-On in a statement to the media.