Keshev Committee unraveling despite progress

Haredi representative on the committee, attorney Yaakov Weinroth, quits over idea of sanctioning ultra-Orthodox who don't serve.

Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Efforts to reach an agreement on equalizing the burden of IDF service made progress on Sunday, even as the Keshev Committee that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed for that purpose continued to unravel.
The haredi representative on the committee, attorney Yaakov Weinroth, quit on Sunday night, citing in a letter to Netanyahu that the issue of personal sanctions on ultra-Orthodox that he strongly opposes was not being handled in a serious way. He joined the Yisrael Beytenu and Habayit Hayehudi representatives who quit the committee last week.
Keshev Committee chairman MK Yohanan Plesner slammed Weinroth, saying that his resignation was proof that the committee would create real change.
Negotiations have shifted from the Keshev Committee to quiet, behind-the-scenes talks. Shas denied reports on Channel 2 and Channel 10 Sunday night that the party had agreed for the first time to permit “light personal sanctions” to be allayed on yeshiva students who evade IDF service.
Channel 2 reported that senior Shas officials stated they would not leave the coalition if the sanctions are decided upon, on the condition that this will complete the bill that is currently being formulated, with no additional demands.
According to the Channel 10 report, ultra-Orthodox party representatives agreed that haredim who do not enlist in the army will not receive housing benefits. In return, they asked for the quota of haredim exempt from army service to be increased.
Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz decided Sunday to postpone a planned visit to the UK and France to personally attend to the Keshev Committee crisis.
Mofaz was meant to meet with top leaders in the two countries midweek to discuss regional development, negotiations with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear program.
Former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni said on Sunday to achieve equality in Israel, every citizen must perform military or civilian national service, whether they are Jewish or Arab, religious or secular.
Livni was speaking to members of “Camp Sucker,” a movement calling for equal service from all segments of the population, at their tent encampment in Tel Aviv.
She said that if some segments of society opt out of serving the country, there should be a limit to the number that are allowed to do so, adding that Israel cannot talk about morals, equality and democracy when only some of its population serves.
"Those who do not follow the law must have sanctions levied against them,” she said.
Livni declined to answer questions on whether Kadima should leave Netanyahu’s coalition. Kadima MKs loyal to her have spoken openly about using the dispute over drafting yeshiva students to split the party.
Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying organization, called on the Keshev Committee to complete its deliberations, despite the decision last week made by Yisrael Beytenu and Habayit Hayehudi to leave the panel.
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev called in particular for the issue of personal financial sanctions on haredi men refusing to serve to be fully discussed and included in the final recommendations of the committee.
"It is becoming ever more apparent that the experts appointed to the committee are nothing but a fig leaf, and that the politicians are seeking to make the decisions for them,” Regev said.
On Sunday, commander of the IDF Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon said that the IDF can absorb into its ranks as many recruits from the ultra-Orthodox community as the state decides to draft.
Alon also noted that drafting haredi men at a more advanced age, relatively speaking, would have significant budgetary ramifications, since men from the community marry young and have children at an early age.
All soldiers are entitled to a supplementary army income if they are married with children, so recruiting ultra- Orthodox men at an older age is more costly for the IDF.
Also on Sunday, several dozen haredi men and youths in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood participated in a prayer service to “avert the decree of a national service draft.”
They then marched toward the IDF recruitment office in the city to protest but police prevented them from reaching their destination.