Gov't okays drafting 1,300 haredim into service

Civilian service proposal is meant as a compromise with religious community but instead outrages campaigners for draft reform

Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
A government proposal to allow 1,300 haredi yeshiva students to enlist in the civilian service program instead of serving in the military was approved on Sunday but was greeted with widespread outrage from IDF draft reform advocates.
The decision was enacted in order to stymie the fall-off in numbers of recruits serving in the civilian service program following the expiration of the “Tal Law” this past August.
The number of active civilian service personnel currently stands at 1,450, down from 2,026 before the law expired.
The Tal Law created a legal framework for full-time yeshiva students to indefinitely defer military service, but also established the civilian service program for haredi recruits in order to provide part of the solution to the low rate of ultra-Orthodox participation in national service programs. The expiration of the law means that yeshiva students can no longer legally defer their military service and enlist in civilian service programs.
Because inductees joined the program at the beginning of every month, instead of an annual or biannual basis, dozens of serving recruits also complete their service every month and leave the program.
According to the Civilian Service Directorate, dozens of haredi men who have applied to the program since August have been turned away each month because of the recruitment freeze.
Sunday’s decision allows recruitment to recommence, although the directorate will not be allowed to exceed the number of recruits who were serving on July 31.
The figure of 1,300 new recruits is an approximation by the directorate of the amount of new manpower it will require to replace those who will complete their service from the period of August 1, 2012 to August 31, 2013.
The new temporary framework extends until August 31, 2013, or until new legislation regulating military service for the ultra-Orthodox is passed by the Knesset.
The decision enables the defense minister to grant a complete military draft exemption for full-time yeshiva students who volunteer for the civilian service and were receiving a military service exemption through the Tal Law framework. They also must be 26 and over; or 22 and over and either have one child or have applied for the national security track of the civilian service program that includes service in the police, ambulance and fire services.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the decision was made to safeguard the continued existence of the civilian service program by keeping enlistment flowing and to preserve the trust of the haredi community and leadership in the program and its administrators.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, who has ministerial oversight for the civilian service, praised the decision and said it was in the national interest to allow haredi men who want to contribute to the state to sign up for the program.
“It is absurd that the expiration of the Tal Law prevented the continued absorption of haredi men [into the civilian service], forcing us to turn away many people who applied,” Herschkowitz said.
“It’s unthinkable to halt the momentum that we have succeeded in building through much hard work in changing the opinion of the community on the haredi street,” he added.
Sar-Shalom Gerbi, director of the Civil and National Service Administration, also welcomed the decision, calling it a positive step and emphasizing that the program would be a central part of any future arrangement dealing with haredi national service.
But the decision sparked furious denunciations from IDF draft reform advocates, who accused the government of encouraging haredi draft evasion.
Tzipi Livni lambasted the decision as “immoral and outrageous.”
“That Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government intends to circumvent the [High Court of Justice ruling] and continue perpetuating this historic injustice is outrageous, immoral and does not stand the test of the High Court,” Livni said.
Former OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Elazar Stern, who recently joined The Tzipi Livni Party, said the Netanyahu government was destroying any possibility of resolving the issue via an agreement.
“Many officials in the haredi community were willing to make compromises... but the end result is that on the eve of elections, the government has demonstrated its true priorities,” Stern said.
Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said the government must stop buying time and find a solution to the issue of equality in the burden of military service.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid announced on Sunday night that it would file a petition with the High Court of Justice to block Netanyahu’s temporary resolution of the post-Tal Law controversy.
Aiming to signal that it takes the issue more seriously than other parties that officially take the same stance, party leader Yair Lapid said that, “we will make sure that this is the last time that the extortionist machine will bend the rule of law in Israel.”
Lapid also spoke directly to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, demanding and pleading with him not to carry out the new policy.
He advised Barak that he “had a chance to resign with his head held high.”
Moreover, Lapid said the government’s plans to continue authorizing the exemption of haredim from IDF service under the guise of slightly increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox doing civilian service is going against the court and “throwing sand in the eyes of the public.”
Lapid added that Yesh Atid would not sit in a government that would not ensure that every citizen does service and is fully integrated into the labor market.
The Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group called the decision “a deplorable necessity.”
“The continued existence of the civilian service with the conscription of full-time yeshiva students is an important and positive process,” said Hiddush deputy director Shahar Ilan.
“But when it exists as a replacement for conducting obligatory conscription it ridicules the notion of an equal share in the burden of national service,” he continued.
“The decision only highlights the government’s refusal to fulfill its legal obligations to draft yeshiva students.”
Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev said “the criticism that has been leveled at the government today on this issue is bizarre and hypocritical.”
“It is also completely political and in no way seeks to deal with the actual issues at hand,” he said. “The government is acting in the correct way by gradually broadening the Nahal Haredi battalion, the Shahar Kahol program [which places haredim in hitech positions] and the civilian service for haredim.
“This problem has to be solved gradually and with agreement. This decision will see a good number of haredim taking up public service and yet its still criticized. Many of the yeshiva students are not physically or personally fit for the army and the army doesn’t want them either,” Ze’ev claimed.
The Camp Sucker movement in favor of reforming the draft announced Sunday that it would set up its trademark tent outside Arlozorov Station in Tel Aviv in response to the decision.
According to the Civilian Service Directorate’s statistics, close to 4,000 haredim have completed or are currently serving in civilian service programs, in the fields of welfare, public security, public health, immigration absorption and environmental protection.
The directorate says that 85 percent of graduates of the program have subsequently integrated into the workforce.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.