Leading haredi advocate for IDF service welcomes passage of amendment to enlistment law

haredi enlistment law passed by the government will have a positive impact on efforts to increase the numbers of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting in the IDF.

Haredi soldier (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredi soldier
One of the most prominent haredi activists in favor of IDF service for the community said the amendment passed by the government last month will help increase the number of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting in the army.
Neta Katz, 29, said the amendment to the existing haredi enlistment law – despite being widely criticized by draft equality activists – would reduce tensions in the community surrounding the issue and therefore make integration into the IDF less controversial and easier to accomplish.
Katz, a Gur hassid living in Bnei Brak, is the director of the civilian arm of the IDF’s Shahar program, which places haredi men in prestigious units within the Intelligence, Navy, Air Force and Computer Service Directorate services. Shahar works with haredi institutions to find men who are suited to IDF service, and also serves as a contact point for haredi men and their families to turn to in order to explore the enlistment process.
The organization also provides preparatory workshops for enlistees before they enter the army, and provides Torah-based content to recruits throughout the course of their military service.
Katz told The Jerusalem Post that while the amendment is not perfect, removing what he termed the coercive clauses of the law would generate a healthier atmosphere in the haredi community in regard to enlistment.
“The previous law made this issue into a battle because there was a feeling that there was a war being waged against the haredi world,” said Katz. “The haredi sector needs to deal with these issues internally, when it doesn’t feel like there’s a war against them and that people are trying to dictate to us what to do.”
He also noted that the new law includes targets for haredi enlistment every year, something which hardline elements in the haredi community object to, since they establish a precedent of haredi support for any IDF enlistment targets at all. Under the provisions of the new amendment, there are enlistment targets until 2023, but they are not mandatory until 2020. Even then, the defense minister will be able to exempt yeshiva students from military service even if those targets are not met.
However, said Katz, since haredi MKs from United Torah Judaism and Shas supported the amendment, debate on the issue has shifted to an internal one. This, he said, is much healthier than the previous situation in which enlistment was being forced on the community from the outside.
“Cultural changes only happen internally, and this is the first time haredi MKs have voted for a law with enlistment targets,” he says. “We’re seeing an in-depth change within haredi society, and it will be more effective and will have a longer-term impact because of this.”
Until now, Katz noted, no coercive sanctions or policies have been implemented against haredi men who don’t enlist in the IDF, yet the numbers of draftees from the community have increased annually since 2007.
Opponents to the amendment argued that the rise in enlistment figures would continue to be too slow to satisfy the High Court of Justice and, ultimately, Israel’s security needs.
Nevertheless, Katz insists that the numbers of haredi men enlisting can continue to increase year after year without impose sanctions against those who refuse.
“The new amendment is not perfect, but there have been increases without any sanctions until now and these increases can be continued without threats or locking horns with the haredi community,” he said.
“This is another step towards greater haredi integration into Israeli society. It’s not perfect, often we have one step forward and two steps back, but this development will give an additional push.”
Katz said he was optimistic the new measure would lead to increasing legitimacy within the haredi community for IDF enlistment.
“The haredi community is doing better with education, better with higher education, better with integrating into the economy,” he said.
“These things are happening while haredi men and women can preserve their haredi identity, but be modern and be part of society too, as happens all over the world.”