Defense Ministry seeks sanctions for yeshivas in haredi enlistment drive

UTJ and Shas will certainly not look favorably on the financial sanctions or the relatively high targets which would, by 2027, increase young haredi men enlisting.

A young Haredi man outside the IDF enlistment office in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A young Haredi man outside the IDF enlistment office in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The recommendations of a special Defense Ministry committee for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment to the IDF were published on Monday night, and include financial sanctions against the general yeshiva budget if targets are not met.
However, such sanctions will not take effect for the first two years of the law’s life, and men who left the haredi community before the age of 18 and subsequently enlist will be counted in the haredi enlistment targets.
United Torah Judaism and Shas said immediately following the publication of the proposals that the leading haredi rabbis would be shown the recommendations and would decide whether or not they are acceptable for the haredi parties.
UTJ and Shas will certainly not look favorably on the financial sanctions or the relatively high targets which would, by 2027, amount to a significant majority of every annual cohort of young haredi men enlisting.
Indeed, shortly after publication of the proposals, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said that  financial sanctions against yeshivas were not acceptable.
"Shas opposes attempt to punish those who study Torah by reducing yeshiva budgets, we will not allow harm to standing of yeshiva students,” he declared.
The Knesset also faces a race against time to legislate any law at all, since the haredi parties have threatened to quit the coalition and topple the government if a new law protecting the right of yeshiva students to study is not passed by the end of the Knesset summer session on July 19.
The committee’s proposals begin by stating that having a conscript army is still an integral principal for the IDF, and that the IDF is in need of increased manpower.
It also acknowledges “the importance of Torah study for the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” although it insists that the inequality inherent in the blanket exemptions available to haredi yeshiva students until now must be reduced.
Significantly, the age of exemption from military service will be 24 and haredi men will be able to serve until the age of 28. This is a key condition for haredi military service, since it gives men from the sector time to get married, which is considered a vital component by the group’s leadership for guaranteeing the haredi identity of its young men.
The combined targets for IDF service and the haredi civilian service program are lower than those set by the law passed in the last government, although this is mainly due to reduction in expectations for enlistment to the civilian service and not the IDF.
The large majority of enlistees will need to go to the IDF in order for the sector to meet the targets, meaning, for example, the target in 2018 will be for 3,996 haredi men to enlist to either military or civilian service, 3,348 of whom must enlist to the IDF.
The targets then increase by 8% per year for the first three years, 6.5% for the next three years, and 5% for the following four years.
The haredi population itself is growing by 4.4% a year.
Financial sanctions against the yeshiva budget will not go into effect in the first two years of the law’s life.
Should the actual number of enlistees in the third year fail to reach 95% of the annual target, the budgetary support for yeshivas will be reduced on an ever-increasing scale.
In years three and four, budgetary support for yeshivas will be cut by one percentage point for every percentage point by which the target was missed, meaning that if the target was missed by 5% the budget will be cut by 5%.
In years five and six of the law, every one percentage point by which the target is missed will lead to a 2% budget cut, in years seven and eight this will increase to 3% and in years nine and ten to 4%. Therefore, if by 2027 the target is missed by 10% the budget for yeshivas will be cut by 40%.
Should the number of enlistees fall below 85% of the annual targets for three years in a row, the entire law will automatically be voided.
The definition of who is haredi will remain the same: an individual who studied for at least two years between the age of 14 and 18 in a haredi educational institutions will be considered haredi.
Significantly, however, those meeting that definition but who left the haredi community between the age of 14-18 and subsequently enlisted will also be included in the haredi enlistment targets.
The committee also proposed to increase the pay of regular soldiers, and increased state subsidies for a bachelor’s degree after military service for those who did full IDF service, in order to further incentivize IDF service and increase enlistment rates.
Yesh Atid, which has campaigned heavily for haredi conscription, said that the Defense Ministry recommendations recycle their party’s bill.
“All of the principles of the outline are taken from the legislation we passed in the last Knesset, including sanctions for not meeting targets,” the party spokesperson said.
“We expect the defense minister and the government not to let political considerations twist the committee’s conclusions... We will fight for equality in the burden and for the principle of the people’s army because that is the future of the country and Israeli society.”
But Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner, who led a parliamentary committee on haredi conscription in the 18th Knesset, called the recommendations a political compromise that is “lacking teeth.”
“The outline should be passed as a temporary law for a limited amount of time, like five years, so that if the conscription targets are not met, conclusions can be drawn and the law can be fixed,” Plesner suggested. “The low rate of enlistment among haredi men is the main cause of the continuing drop in Israeli civilians serving... If that trend continues, it can, in the long run, destroy the model of the people’s army and national security.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this article.