Gov't seeks to boost national service

Cabinet approves c'tee to encourage volunteers, including Arabs and haredim

haredim near soldiers298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredim near soldiers298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An Authority for National Service was created by the government on Sunday, to channel youth who do not serve in the army to voluntary positions for one or two years. The establishment of the authority comes some three years after the passage of the Tal Law, which aimed to direct yeshiva students into the workforce by giving them the option, if they leave the yeshivot, of either joining the army for a truncated period or doing voluntary service, after which they could legally work. But the creation of the authority now - when there is a public backlash against an increase in draft evasion from all sectors of the population - has raised questions whether this channel won't be taken advantage of by those who simply don't want to serve in the IDF. Reuven Gal, a former IDF chief psychologist and the head of the new authority, said at a press conference Sunday that this channel would only be open to those whom the IDF either did not draft, such as Israeli Arabs, and those who received either deferments, such as yeshiva students, or medical or psychological exemptions. "It is important to note that the IDF and the Defense Ministry support this," Gal said. "The reason is that they understand that with the growing numbers of those who don't go into the army, there is a benefit - at least - in having them serve in another capacity." Under this new policy, those who opt to do national service will, like the religious girls who now often do one to two years of national service, receive a monthly stipend equivalent to what non-combat soldiers receive, as well as a grant when they finish their service. Currently, Gal said, some 10,000 young women performed national service, most of them either in hospitals, schools or social service agencies. He said 25 percent of them continue to serve for a second year, and called this program, which has been around for some 20 years, a "success." Gal said Education Minister Yuli Tamir denied in Sunday's regular cabinet meeting press reports that her ministry had cut the number of National Service women teaching basic Judaism in the schools because "they are too right wing." National Union/National Religious Party head MK Zevulun Orlev slammed Tamir on Sunday. "The person who brings the Palestinian nakba narrative into the educational system and prevents National Service girls from teaching religious studies and Zionism cannot serve as education minister in a Jewish state for one more day," he said, referring to Tamir's recent decision to include the Arab term for the establishment of the State of Israel, nakba (catastrophe), in a third-grade textbook for Arab schoolchildren. The new authority will be set up in the Prime Minister's Office; the cabinet allocated NIS 5 million to get it up and running. Gal said the service would be voluntary, but those who sign up would be obligated to stay on for at least a year, with an option for a second. Arabs who opt to go this route would be able to serve in their own communities, Gal said, adding that the new authority was completely divorced from the IDF and the Defense Ministry. In light of this, the opposition to this program from Israeli Arab leaders was "not understandable to us," he said. In addition to the fields of health, education and welfare, other areas would be opened, including helping to curb traffic accidents, dealing with environmental issues, and assisting Holocaust survivors, Gal said. Regarding the haredi community, Gal said he had met with leading rabbis and community leaders and that there was a willingness to consider the option as long as the conditions existed to make it possible for the volunteers to continue living an ultra-Orthodox way of life. Under the Tal Law, when yeshiva students become 23, they can take a year off from the yeshiva to work. After that year, they need to decide whether to return to the yeshiva, go into the army, or perform national service. Until now, however, National Service has not a viable alternative because there was no authority to organize this. Gal said that in the first year of the Authority for National Service's operation, approximately 500 youths were expected to opt for this track.