Knesset approves haredi conscription delay in first reading

Ya'alon: We want haredi integration, not populist talk; Lapid: Bill is pathetic political corruption.

Haredi soldier (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredi soldier
The government wants to encourage haredim to serve, but not to force them, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Monday, before the Knesset approved in a first vote legislation deferring mandatory haredi conscription until 2023.
Ya'alon said the government will continue trying to reach annual goal numbers of haredim in civilian and IDF service "through cooperation, while creating real ways to reach this goal."
"This is the most important discussion for Israeli society, from a historical perspective. The question of who serves is an open wound in Israel society," Ya'alon stated.
The Defense Minister said he believes strongly in the new version of the law, because it would allow service without forcing it.
"We are allowing a haredi lifestyle, matching someone to a unit with the right character, allowing Mehadrin Kosher food, giving time to learn Torah during the day, and more," he explained, adding that 5000 haredim are currently serving in the IDF and those who finish service are able to find jobs more easily.
Ya'alon called for a stop to "populist political talk," which he said only reduces the number of haredim serving and joining the workforce, and welcomed discourse that allows integration.
According to the bill, the date for mandatory haredi enlistment, which under the law passed in 2014 was set to begin in June 2017, will be pushed back to 2020.
Between 2020 and 2023, full time yeshiva students would be obligated to serve in either military or civilian service, but the defense minister would have the authority to exempt yeshiva students even if the government targets are not met. In 2023 the coalition will either have to extend the law or let it expire.
Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid wondered what to tell his son, an IDF soldier, about the bill.
"What will I tell him? That his highest commander [Ya'alon] sold him out for coalition politics?" Lapid asked. "You are lying at the expense of IDF soldiers. There is no logic here, just small, pathetic political corruption."
Similarly, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman pointed out that Shas and UTJ refused to vote for the budget if the conscription bill did not go to a vote first.
"There is nothing more cynical than discussions canceling equality in the burden at this time, when we see security challenges daily," he stated.
Liberman also repeated his accusation that Likud is betraying its nationalist ideology and allowing the haredi parties to "replace Zionism with clericism."
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said he "never believed in humiliating and excluding groups on Israeli society, but in dialogue and integration and understanding social processes."
Herzog said that when the law was passed two years ago together with electoral reform and law requiring a referendum on sovereign land concessions, Labor boycotted the vote, because they felt haredi conscription is worthy of a more serious parliamentary debate.
"And here we are today, with the coalition repeating the same sin, in a petty deal together with the budget and the WZO Settlement Division. We think this is a social process that has to be undertaken wisely," he stated.
MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (UTJ) said that Yesh Atid, the current law's biggest proponent, want Haredim to take part in the workforce, but they passed a law that would give many Haredim criminal records, making it harder for them to work.
Yesh Atid cracked wise about Moses' comparison of the law to policies in Russia under the Czar Nicholas, with MK Yoel Razbozov thanking him for the Russian history lesson and wondering why he didn't mention Catherine the Great.
UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler posited that there are more people than necessary in the army.
"Mandatory conscription has  become a divisive factor, and we need to move to voluntary enlistment. The whole story of mandatory conscription is anachronistic," he said.
The law was approved in a first reading with 60 MKs in favor - the entire coalition, except for MK Oren Hazan (Likud) who was hospitalized due to an asthma attack- and 45 opposed. Joint List MKs skipped the vote.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.