'Yesh Atid plan for haredi draft will never happen'

Shas leader Deri says his party is unwilling to limit number of yeshiva students who get exemptions for full-time study.

Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Serious obstacles were put up on Thursday to the possibility that Yesh Atid and Shas could sit together in the next government.
Shas co-chairman Arye Deri said on Thursday that Yesh Atid’s plan for increasing haredi enlistment in national service “will not be established and will never happen.”
Speaking on haredi radio station Kol Berama, Deri said the party was willing to increase the number of haredim enlisting but was opposed to establishing quotas for the number of yeshiva students able to receive exemptions for full-time study.
But Yesh Atid incoming MK Ofer Shelah, No. 6 on the party’s electoral list, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that his party would be insisting on the full implementation of its plan for haredi enlistment into national service.
“Full implementation of our plan for haredi enlistment is a condition for us sitting in government, 100 percent,” Shelah said.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s plan for increasing the haredi draft, however, allows for only 1,000 exceptional Torah scholars to be exempt from army service, a figure which is almost certainly unacceptable to Shas, and full enlistment for all other male 18-year-olds into military or national service.
Click for full JPost coverageClick for full JPost coverage
There are currently approximately 45,000 full-time haredi yeshiva students, who until August received an automatic exemption from military service because of their religious studies, while approximately 7,000 haredi men turn 18 every year.
A Shas official close to Deri reiterated on Thursday that the party was not opposed to increasing the number of haredim enlisting in the army.
“The opposite is true, but what’s important is it’s not done forcefully or coercively,” the source said.
Shas’s position on the issue, which will be at the top of the agenda when serious coalition negotiations get underway next week, is frequently expressed by its leaders as “whoever is learning will continue to learn, and whoever is not learning should enlist,” but this stance has never been clearly defined.
In an interview with the Post just before Tuesday’s general election, Deri’s fellow Shas cochairman Ariel Attias refused to discuss the details of the party’s demands regarding haredi national service enlistment, or define what is meant by “whoever is not learning.”
“It’s a definition to be expounded on in the legislation, it’s not a definition for a newspaper,” said Attias, who served in the outgoing Knesset as construction and housing minister.
On Wednesday night, Deri reiterated that the party “would not tear a yeshiva student away from his study lectern,” but added that “haredim who aren’t studying need to be provided with appropriate tracks in the army and civilian service.”
It is widely believed that many thousands of those enrolled in full-time study do not actually fulfill their commitments, although precise figures are not available.
The movement’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said just before the election that yeshiva students should leave the country rather than be drafted.
According to an estimate by Prof. Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute, approximately 60% of haredi students would chose to leave yeshiva and enter the workforce if allowed to do so.
Those who do not fulfill their quota of study hours are believed to work in undeclared employment and take care of children at home when not in yeshiva, Stern said, among other possible activities.
Approximately 61% of haredi women are employed, requiring that either their husband supervise the children during the day, or that they be placed in daycare.
Yesh Atid’s plan for universal service provides for an initial five-year blanket exemption for all haredi 18-year olds from military service, enabling them to join the work force, during which time the army and civilian service would prepare for the absorption of large numbers of haredi recruits into tracks designed specifically for their lifestyle.
After the five-year period, all 18-year-old males from then on would be required to enlist, apart from 1,000 exceptional Torah scholars, and those who refuse to serve “would forfeit all government funding and benefits with the exception of basic social security.”
Although these terms would be hard for Shas to accept, the party source said that the leadership believed an understanding could be reached.
“The campaign is over now and so are the slogans,” he said.
“Everyone needs to compromise, but where there’s a will there’s a way.”
The source refused to comment, however, on speculation that Shas would request a free vote from coalition discipline in the negotiations on any government- proposed legislation on haredi enlistment.
Regarding the general chances of forming a coalition between Shas and Yesh Atid, the official said argued that “Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] likes to be in the center of his coalition, politically speaking, so it suits him to be between Lapid and Shas on matters of religion and state.”
Aside from the issue of haredi enlistment, Attias expressed to the Post fervent opposition to any change in the religious status quo – in what was a generally hostile interview.
The minister reiterated Shas’s policy that it would work against the operation of public transport on Shabbat in the coming Knesset, saying that the symbol of the Jewish day of rest was vital to the State of Israel.
“You can’t come and say that a symbol angers people,” Attias said, when asked whether the party was concerned about the negative image of haredi parties in the eyes of the broader public.
“We don’t tell a person how to live, everyone carries out their lives however he wants to. People live in their private domains, and also in the public space, however they want.
“Public transport is the transport of the state, the state subsidizes it, it operates it, and it’s a symbol. Today it’s public transport; tomorrow it will be government offices [that are open],” Attias argued.
The day before the election, Yosef once again emphasized the party’s devotion to preserving the status of yeshiva students.
“We are in great trouble...
[due to] these secular people who hate the Torah, who want to draft the yeshiva students who learn Torah day and night and give pleasure to God,” he said. “I am greatly pained by this matter.”