Shaked: Haredi enlistment to IDF for 2014/5 likely to be met

However, targets for the Civilian Service program, an alternative for haredi men to full military service, most likely be missed.

Haredi protest in Jerusalem against draft (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredi protest in Jerusalem against draft
The Knesset oversight committee for the implementation of the law for ultra-Orthodox conscription heard on Monday that targets for enlistment to the IDF were likely to be reached, but that the targets for the national service program would most likely be missed.
Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, who chaired the committee that approved the legislation for its final votes in the Knesset back in March, told the hearing that some 800 haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men had enlisted from July to September this year.
The government target is for 2,300 haredi men to enlist to the IDF between July 2014 and July 2015, so the figures presented by Shaked would suggest that this target will be met.
Sar-Shalom Gerbi, the director of the national service program, said that government targets for the course, which serves as an alternative for haredi men to full military service, would likely be missed.
The target for total haredi enlistment from July 2014 to July 2015 is 3,800, of which 1,500 may come from the nation service program.
Gerbi said on Monday that since July 1, when the new regulations were implemented for recruitment, 299 haredi men have enlisted to the program, meaning that the rate of enlistment will not be sufficient to reach the goal of 1,500 recruits.
The law stipulated specific and increasing targets for haredi enlistment to be met every year until 2017. If the targets are not met, the full legal obligation to perform military service that is incumbent on all other Jewish men would be applied to haredi men as well.
The law for haredi conscription gives anyone aged 22 and over on the day the law was passed an immediate exemption from all national service, Gerbi pointed out. In addition, anyone aged 18 is able to defer their service till the age of 24 and then get a full exemption. Only those who were under the age of 18 when the law was passed will be fully obligated to serve the 32 months of standard military service.
The national service program is only available to men over the age of 21.
The previous age of exemption was 28.
Gerbi said that in effect, the pool of men who are eligible to sign up for national service has been greatly reduced, and the motivation for them to sign up, given that many of those who were eligible will be able to receive full exemptions, is much reduced.
“It will very hard to fulfill the government target without extra incentives because so many men can gain a total exemption,” he said.
“We are working extremely hard, however, so that even if we do not reach the exact target, we will get as close as possible.”
The vehement opposition of the haredi rabbinic leadership to the law continues to adversely affect haredi enlistment, he noted.
Director of the Hiddush religious pluralism lobbying group and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said that the drop in motivation for signing up for national service had been predicted before the law was enacted.
He cautiously welcomed the recruitment numbers to military service, but said that it was important to verify that the IDF was defining haredi men as those who have come from the haredi education system. Concerns have been raised in the past that only those on the periphery of haredi society and not the mainstream majority would be conscripted by the IDF under the terms of the new law.
It is thought that despite the harsh denunciations of the conscription law by the haredi leadership, the circumstances of the recent war may have softened the image of the IDF in the eyes of the haredi public.
“If the numbers are reliable, then it would seem that Operation Protective Edge has repaired some of the damage caused by the conscription law and that someone who enlists is no longer seen as a traitor,” Regev said.
Unprecedented expressions of support emanated from the haredi community during the recent war in Gaza, including projects to cheer and encourage soldiers and the recitation of prayers for those serving the armed forces during the operation.