Haredi MKs mourn as enlistment bill passes first hurdle

Deri: Studying Torah is carrying the burden; Lapid: We don’t hate you, but the old arrangement isn’t working.

Haredi, soldier at IDF recruitment office 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi, soldier at IDF recruitment office 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Coalition and Labor MKs praised the passing of the government’s haredi enlistment plan in its first reading on Tuesday, after a long debate in which haredi lawmakers used creative means to demonstrate their opposition.
“This bill will allow tens of thousands of haredim to support their families and themselves with dignity and integrate in to the workforce,” a Yesh Atid spokeswoman said.
“For the first time in 65 years, via the framework of this bill, everyone will serve their country.”
The bill’s two components, which will require all 18-yearold haredi men to enlist in the IDF or civilian service beginning in 2017, passed with 64 in favor and 21 opposed, and 66 in favor and 29 opposed, respectively, after a more-than- six-hour debate that ended at nearly 5 a.m.
Haredi MKs found many different ways to express their opposition to the legislation.
At first, when Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), who led the ministerial committee on ultra-Orthodox enlistment, presented the legislation, they demonstratively walked out to pray.
MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) handcuffed himself to the lectern, declaring that “even if you handcuff us, we will continue to study Torah!” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud Beytenu) had Porush removed from the stand and said, “Such behavior is shameful, and all you are doing is giving the Knesset Ethics Committee more work.”
It took Knesset ushers several minutes to unlock the handcuffs and separate Porush from the lectern.
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) quoted from High Holy Day prayers – “Our Father, our King, rip up the evil decree” – and together with other haredi MKs tore his shirt as a sign of mourning.
“This day will be remembered for generations as one in which the government of Israel decided to wage war against the Torah of Israel. Whoever raises his hand in favor of this bill will not be forgiven or forgotten,” MK Yisrael Eicher (UTJ) said.
Shas lawmakers chose a less dramatic tack, simply presenting arguments against the bill in their speeches.
“I have no delusions that I can convince someone who is not part of the Torah world that someone who is a man of Torah and studies Torah doesn’t even understand the expression ‘Equality in the burden,’” Shas chairman Arye Deri said. “They don’t realize studying Torah non-stop is carrying the burden.”
Deri called yeshiva students the Sayeret Matkal (IDF General Staff’s Reconnaissance Unit) of Israeli society.
“[Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)] is leading a patronizing and inflammatory discourse. The whole purpose of this bill is to cut haredim out of society,” Deri said.
“Our forefathers all studied Torah and dedicated themselves to the Torah of Israel,” MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said. “You will not be able to force even one Torah scholar to enlist. He’d rather sit in jail and study Torah. The Knesset is tearing the Jewish people apart! Without Torah, there is no Jewish people.”
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) suggested that haredi enlistment would be bad for the IDF, because it would “turn the army into one big beit midrash [Torah study hall].”
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) presented the civil service portion of the bill, saying that if there is a reason for the current coalition to exist, it is to pass this legislation.
“This is the last opportunity to build a partnership,” Bennett warned. “I am proud of Torah studies. They are the reason we are all here [in Israel]. Am I 100 percent happy with this bill? No. Is Lapid 100% happy? No. But I’m proud of the government that is dealing with one of the central problems in the State of Israel.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) explained that her party will support the bill on principle, because it believes serving in the IDF is a privilege, not a burden, that all citizens should have.
At the same time, she said the bill will not get haredim to enlist.
“The bill doesn’t really bother me, because it’s not worth much, but the cheap discourse of hatred does. We need to create a common ethos, something that will connect us and not divide,” Yacimovich said.
Lapid wrapped up the discussion of the bill by saying that he has no hatred for haredim or Torah.
“The haredim said that we hate them in order to make their work easier. They know that no one really hates them. All we’re trying to say is they made a mistake in their understanding of the relationship between a country and its people. All we’re saying is we can’t continue with the old arrangement. Tonight isn’t about war, but about reconciliation,” Lapid said.
On Monday, the Knesset authorized the formation of a committee led by MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) that will prepare the bill for its second and third (final) readings, and includes MKs Meir Porush (UTJ), Ariel Attias (Shas), Omer Bar-Lev (Labor), Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu), Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid) and Elazar Stern (Hatnua).
The bill will not be brought to a final vote during the Knesset’s summer session, which ends on August 4.
The haredi enlistment bill only mandates obligatory service beginning in 2017. In addition, the legislation allows anyone who is 22 and over on the day it becomes law to receive an automatic exemption from military service and to enter the workforce.
Any haredi man who is between 18 and 22 when the law is enacted is encouraged to enlist but is able to defer service until age 24, after which he is eligible for a full exemption and allowed to join the workforce.
Anyone who is 18 and under would be obligated to enlist, but able to defer service until age 21, which, if the bill is passed this year, will not be until 2016.
Critics of the bill are concerned that the interim period provided for under the “Peri Bill” will lead to a decline in haredi enlistment from current rates, which in 2011 stood at almost 30% when taking IDF and civilian service enlistment together.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the legislation is that starting in 2017, a haredi yeshiva student aged 21 who refuses to serve is to be subject to the Law for the Security Services (1986), which provides for the imprisonment of anyone evading the draft.
Other provisions of the bill allow for granting full exemptions to 1,800 outstanding Torah scholars each year, and for imposing financial penalties on haredi yeshivot that do not fulfill enlistment quotas.
Some have criticized the bill for not including any provisions for obligatory enlistment of Israeli Arabs to some form of national service.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.