Haredi enlistment issue to face first Knesset vote

The Peri Bill is expected to clear the parliamentary hurdle and continue on to the Shaked Committee for further examination.

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)
The government’s haredi enlistment plan is slated to move to the Knesset Monday, when it is to be brought to a first vote.
MKs are expecting a long night, with haredi MKs to give hours of speeches against the plan submitted earlier this month by a ministerial committee led by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri.
However, haredi lawmakers remained coy as to how they’ll fight the legislation, with a Shas spokesman saying: “We’re preparing. We don’t need to tell everyone how, but rest assured, we’ll do our job as parliamentarians.”
Still, the legislation is expected to pass its first vote, with support from the coalition and even some opposition MKs, such as Labor’s Itzik Shmuli.
“This is a historic change dealing with one of the most complex and sensitive issues in Israeli society,” Peri said Sunday.
“The responsibility to implement the reform is now on all of the public representatives serving in the Knesset.”
Meanwhile, Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked prepared to lead a legislative committee on haredi enlistment, which, if the bill passes its first reading, would convene on Tuesday.
The Shaked Committee is not expected to make significant changes to the bill approved by the government.
Earlier this month, Peri said he will “insist that [the enlistment bill] passes [in its final vote] before the session ends,” adding that “Yesh Atid has done the impossible before.”
At the same time, a senior coalition source expressed doubts whether the bill would become law during the Knesset’s summer session, which ends in the beginning of August.
The source explained that not only will it be hard to find time to deal with haredi enlistment during intensive budget votes, but no serious discussion of the Peri Bill can take place in the week-and-a-half of the summer session the Shaked Committee would have at its disposal if the legislation were to theoretically pass.
“Equality in the burden needs a deeper discussion,” the source said.
The current text of the bill only mandates obligatory service in 2017. In addition, the draft law allows anyone who is 22 and over on the day the law is passed to receive an automatic exemption from military service and enable them to enter the work force.
Anyone who is between 18 and 22 if 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 work force. Anyone who is 18 and under would be obligated to enlist, but able to defer service until age 21, which, if the law is passed this year, will be 2016.
Critics of the bill are concerned that the interim period provided for under the Peri law will lead to a decline in haredi enlistment from current recruitment rates, which in 2011 stood at almost 30 percent when taking IDF and civilian service enlistment together.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the bill is that from 2017 and onward, a haredi yeshiva student aged 21 refusing to serve is to be subject to the Law for the Security Services of 1986, providing for the imprisonment of anyone evading the draft.
Although this law is applicable to all other Jewish Israelis, critics of the bill have argued that the coercive nature of the measure will generate reflex opposition to enlistment in the haredi community and from its rabbinic leadership and lead to a blanket ban on enlistment by leading rabbis.
Other provisions of the bill allow for granting full exemptions to 1,800 outstanding Torah scholars, and for imposing financial penalties against haredi yeshivot that do not fulfill enlistment quotas.
Some have also criticized the bill for not including any provisions for obligatory enlistment of Israeli Arabs to some form of national service.
Israel Democracy Institute vice president of research Prof. Yedidia Stern – who served on the Plesner Committee for haredi enlistment in the last Knesset – and IDI researcher Haim Zicherman raised serious concerns about the Peri Bill, saying that “the likely outcome is that the law will be a failure in the immediate term, and will be canceled or will become a dead letter in the medium term.”
“The threat of mass imprisonment, if enlistment goals are not met in 2017, is a strategic mistake,” Stern and Zicherman asserted. “The proposed legislation, if adopted, will deal a lethal blow to the rule of law in Israel because there is no chance that it will actually be implemented, and in the meantime, the threat of imprisonment galvanizes the haredi community around extreme positions and radicalizes the nature of the discourse on this issue.”
Stern and Zicherman argue that leaving the responsibility of determining which 1,800 Torah scholars will be exempt from service to yeshivot instead of the army leaves the door open to institutional corruption.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.