ANALYSIS: ‘People’s army’ won’t be saved by politicians

Ongoing national concern not likely to get better with new bill.

Haredi soldier (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredi soldier
Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment to the IDF, or lack thereof, is a complex societal conundrum that has confounded the country and its political leadership for decades.
Unfortunately, the latest efforts of the government to solve this riddle will likely have little impact in resolving this ongoing national concern.
True, the terms of the new legislation that passed in its first reading on Monday stipulate for the first time financial sanctions against the general yeshiva budget if enlistment targets are not met.
These sanctions, however, only take effect in the third year of the law’s lifetime and are not particularly stringent, while the enlistment targets are not especially ambitious, and the definition of who is haredi is expansive, including someone who studied only for two years between the age of 14 and 18 in a haredi educational institution, and even someone who left the haredi community during that time.
This means that most young men from the haredi mainstream will continue to avoid military service, while those who fall by the wayside from haredi life and institutions will, along with marginal haredi groups, make up the IDF haredi enlistment quotas.
Yes, the IDF needs manpower and ultimately it does not matter where recruits come from, but with the rapid growth of the haredi community it is uncertain in the extreme that merely drafting the dropouts will be sufficient.
If the enlistment targets are not met than the law will be voided and service will become obligatory for haredi yeshiva students, but that could only happen in the fifth year of the law’s lifetime, with the Knesset given 12 months after that to draft new legislation.
In essence, this legislation is an example par excellence of kicking the can down the road, which is precisely what the haredi parties want.
The High Court of Justice’s September deadline will be met, the issue will taken off the table for the coming elections drawing its political sting, and once a new government is in place, the haredi parties, who will almost certainly be included in it, can make new changes to further dilute the law’s terms, including further weakening the financial sanctions.
And the reality is that as long as the haredi parties are members of the coalition no meaningful legislation can be passed to remedy the situation.
Indeed, even when they were not in government, effective legislation proved to be unobtainable when Yesh Atid failed to heed warnings that failure to implement meaningful sanctions immediately would lead to the undoing of their law, as indeed transpired.
In truth, this problem is now unlikely to be resolved through legislation given the political obstacles blocking the kind of reform that is needed.
Perhaps the one saving grace is that haredi enlistment has been steadily, if slowly, increasing year on year over the last decade, regardless of the various laws that have been passed and struck down by the High Court.
It remains to be seen if the failure of the political system to tackle this critical national problem will result in the collapse of the conscript army model that has served the Jewish state until now, or if it will be rescued by the processes of haredi societal integration that have already begun.
But the “people’s army” as the conscript model is known, is unlikely to be delivered by the country’s political leadership.