Ministers back away from support for haredi draft exemption

Knesset panel: No oversight for Tal Law compliance

Government ministers actively distanced themselves on Monday from last week’s cabinet decision to expand haredi draft exemptions, with ministers refusing to defend their act on the Knesset floor and calling on the government to hold a second hearing on the exemption.
The Tal Law and haredi participation in national service stood at the center of Monday’s Knesset debate, after the opposition forced the plenum to convene to discuss the government decision.
Hours after the debate, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) attacked the clause of the economic arrangements bill approved by the government last week and sent a letter to cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser asking for a new hearing on the issue. The government voted last week to exempt all haredi men from IDF service at the age of 22. The controversial Tal Law, the subject of a committee hearing earlier in the day, allows haredi men to defer their army service until the age of 22 in order to study in yeshivas.
Braverman said that he expected that the rest of the Labor Party ministers would support his call for a new hearing on the clause.
“This decision will eliminate the possibility to integrate the yeshiva students into the IDF and is a final certification for their evasion,” he said. “Instead of holding a serious hearing within the government on the subject of equalizing the burden of national service, this was instead a sleight-ofhand in order to make something non-kosher kosher. It will worsen the rift between secular people and haredim and will bring about an increase in draft evasion among both groups.”
Braverman’s office acknowledged that the minister had voted in favor of the clause, but emphasized that it had been brought for a vote and approved in a “hijacking” of otherwise unwilling government ministers.
Earlier, with protesters carrying stretchers marching outside of the Knesset, the coalition got off to a rocky start on Monday in its attempt to counter opposition criticism of the expansion of haredi draft exemptions.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i (Labor) declined to defend the government case against the opposition attacks on the house floor, forcing Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to call for a 10-minute break to the special plenum session until a minister could be found to defend the government’s decision.
Ultimately, Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Mergi (Shas) was drafted into service, taking the podium to explain that the government’s position would save the state money by enabling more yeshiva students to enter the work force.
“The goal of this hearing is to push the government to cancel the miserable and unethical decision that was made back-handedly in the dark of night,” said MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), the head of the Knesset team tasked with examining the application of the Tal Law.
“The decision will speed up the existing trends that could cause the collapse of the model of the people’s army. It is not a coincidence that practically none of the ministers is willing to defend the decision in the plenum.”
Plesner later told The Jerusalem Post that during the meeting held earlier in the day to discuss the Tal Law, committee members “discovered that the entire system of oversight involves a complete lack of coordination between the Education Ministry and the IDF regarding which yeshiva students who received draft deferments actually attend classes.”
“It turns out that every year the oversight of Education Ministry discovers hundreds of students who don’t uphold the criteria – who are supposed to go to the yeshivas and don’t go. There is a concern that many of these are those who have received deferments by declaring that Torah study is their vocation,” Plesner said.
“The data are not passed on to the IDF – there is an entire supervision system of the Education Ministry, and an entire IDF system that also does this, but they don’t speak with each other.
Instead, the IDF relies on data from the Yeshiva Committee, which is not an unbiased body.”
Furthermore, said Plesner, “there are dozens of yeshivas that are not recognized, but whose students received the deferment. In admitting to this, the IDF acknowledged that it did not work in accordance with the Tal Law.”
United Torah Judaism faction Chairman Moshe Gafni argued that the same could be said for secular artists who received draft deferments to pursue their artistic endeavors and who, he said, had little oversight to ensure that they were furthering their art in the period where they would otherwise perform national service.