Haredi parties threaten to quit Knesset panel on IDF enlistment

Vote on whether to impose a legal obligation on haredim to perform national service set to take place Tuesday in Knessest c'tee.

Arye Deri 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Arye Deri 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Shas and United Torah Judaism threatened Monday that they would leave a special Knesset committee on haredi enlistment to protest decisions being made by the coalition MKs.
Shas leader Arye Deri and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said the rabbis would rule about whether to quit the panel, and Gafni said the two parties would coordinate their departure.
Deri criticized Bayit Yehudi, which he said was cooperating with Yesh Atid against the haredim.
“Bayit Yehudi’s behavior in the enlistment committee has proven that Rabbi Ovadia [Yosef, Shas’s late spiritual mentor] was right about the party,” said Deri during the Shas faction meeting on Monday.
“They are collaborating with Yesh Atid and paying lip service to the fight against the imposition of criminal sanctions,” he said.
In January last year, Yosef called Bayit Yehudi, which means Jewish Home, the House of Non-Jews during the general election campaign, which was ostensibly the comment Deri was referring to on Monday.
Meanwhile, a critical vote on whether to impose a legal obligation on haredi men to perform national service will likely take place Tuesday in the special Knesset committee.
The question of whether to impose legally obligatory service on haredim, entailing possible imprisonment for anyone refusing to serve, or to use economic sanctions against them instead, has been at the heart of the ongoing struggle within the coalition on the issue.
Yesh Atid is insisting that the full legal obligation to serve be imposed on haredi men as it is on all other Jewish men of military age, while Bayit Yehudi has urged using economic sanctions in order to coax yeshiva students out of the study halls.
One political source did, however, express doubt that the vote would take place on Tuesday, and said that there was still no agreement on the issue.
Another source acknowledged that there was not necessarily agreement on the question of criminal or economic sanctions, but would not say why a vote was being scheduled earlier than expected.
It is considered unlikely that the committee will vote on the issue of criminal or economic sanctions without first having come to an agreement, given the delicate political considerations involved.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has threatened to leave the coalition if a legal obligation to serve is not imposed.
However, the party’s stance has not impressed the grassroots campaigners who have demanded that haredi men be drafted.
The coalition of groups, which brought the issue to public prominence in 2012, put up their protest tent once again on Arlosoroff Street in Tel Aviv and said that the current law represented “the opposite of equality in the burden of military service.”
The campaigners noted that due to some of the provisions of the current bill, there will be no obligation for haredi men to serve for the next three years, while many thousands will be able to gain a complete exemption.
During a hearing of the Knesset’s special committee for the legislation on Monday, a vote on these specific clauses of the government bill was actually delayed, due to the reservations of the committee’s legal adviser, who echoed the sentiments of the draft equality campaigners regarding the exact same issues.
The current text of the bill proposes that any yeshiva student who is between the ages of 18 and 22 on the day the law comes into effect can, if he so wishes, defer serving until the age of 24, when he will then be able to gain a full exemption.
Anyone who is 22 and over will be able to get an immediate and total exemption.
The legal adviser to the committee, Miri Frankel Shor, noted during Monday’s hearing that these two provisions could decrease motivation for haredi enlistment in the interim period and lead to a decrease in haredi enlistment over current figures.
“This blanket exemption takes us backward,” she said.
Several political analysts have warned of just such a scenario in recent weeks.
Shor proposed instead to raise the age of automatic exemption on the date the law takes effect to 24, instead of 22.
In addition, she said that those who were between 18 and 22 when the law comes into effect should get an exemption only at the age of 26 instead of at 24.
Shor said that the terms of the interim period as they are currently stipulated are a significant legal problem and noted that the current terms could stymie efforts to meet the government-set targets for haredi enlistment in 2017, which would lead to serious legal and social repercussions for the haredi community.
A representative of the Economy Ministry said that the ministry opposed Shor’s proposals because the state wanted to start integrating haredi men into the workforce as soon as possible, but Shor said that the requirements of legal equality in national service obligations meant that the changes she mentioned should be implemented.
“There’s no reason at all that someone who’s 18 in 2014 should be able to get a complete exemption from national service when he turns 24,” she said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this article.