Gov't approves reform to increase haredi IDF enlistment

Defense minister praises proposal; Kadima blasts proposal as legitimizing draft evasion; plan to bring most haredim to army or nat'l service.

soldiers haredi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
soldiers haredi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel hopes to have 65 percent of draft-aged haredi men either in IDF uniform or doing security-related national service by the year 2015, according to a plan approved by the cabinet Sunday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the plan as nothing less than a “significant revolution” that will have far-reaching consequences regarding the integration of haredim into society.
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“We will not allow a growing proportion of the public to be exempt from service ostensibly due to ‘full-time religious studies.’ Israel cannot sustain this,” Netanyahu said.
The proposal passed by a vote of 23-1, with Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) casting the only nay vote. Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor (Likud) and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) abstained.
Kadima, however, slammed the plan, saying that it legitimized draft evasion for thousands of haredim.
Kadima MK Yohanan Plessner said that the reform would allow some 12,000 yeshiva students who are already older than the ages covered in the program to receive an immediate exemption, and that “within the next five years maybe 2,400 yeshiva students will enlist.”
Kadima released a statement following the reform’s approval, accusing Netanyahu of “allowing draft evasion in exchange for [political] survival.”
The statement said that Netanyahu was turning IDF service into political currency.
“For the first time in the country’s history a prime minister has without shame and for political ends permitted draft evasion while trampling the values of IDF as a people’s army, and the importance of equally carrying the state’s burden,” the statement said.
The head of the IDF’s personnel division, Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir, said after the cabinet decision that currently a quarter of draft-age men do not go into the army, with 13 percent haredim with yeshiva exemptions. In 1996 the number of yeshiva exemptions stood at 4% of the eligible draftees, he said.
Zamir said that while he would prefer that haredim do three years of military service at 18, as is expected of others, the proposal agreed upon Sunday would reduce the inequality that now exists.
“It is an evolutionary process,” he said.
Zamir said there was a greater understanding in the haredi community that integration into the army and then the workforce is necessary to fend off poverty.
According to the plan, the number of haredim in national service and the IDF will double from 2,400 in 2011 to 4,800 in 2015, with half of those in national service, and half in the IDF. In 2010 there were 840 haredim in the IDF, and 1,050 doing national service.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the decision, telling the cabinet it was “a correct step in the right direction” toward getting the haredim to share the national burden.
Barak said the program would enable some of the haredim to enter the country’s workforce, and will lead to a gradual change in the relationship between the haredim and both the IDF and the state.
The program allocates NIS 130 million to the IDF to absorb the haredim and create appropriate frameworks for them, and NIS 70m. to create national service programs.
Under the program, the Shahar project will be strengthened considerably.
This is a program through which haredim serve in IDF technological frameworks for some two years and are trained to enter the civilian labor market.
Under the program approved Sunday there will be four tracks for haredim:
• A track for haredim who are not in a yeshiva framework – they will do a year’s preparatory course, and go into the army at 18 for three years.
• Nahal Haredi, for those aged 18-22, who will serve two years in the army, and then spend their third year in training for civilian employment.
• Haredim aged 22–25 who will serve 24 months in Shahar, and also receive training to enter the civilian workforce; or do a year of national service in organizations such as the police, Prisons Service, Fire and Rescue Services and Magen David Adom.
• Those above 26 will do three months of national service, and then be placed in the reserves and trained for national emergencies.