Knesset votes on first reading of haredi enlistment bill

Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri says bill will help bring the ultra-Orthodox community into the modern workforce.

Haredi, soldier at IDF recruitment office 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi, soldier at IDF recruitment office 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Knesset voted on the government’s haredi enlistment plan Monday night, as Shas and UTJ called it “disastrous,” and Labor supported it.
The bill’s first reading took place after press time, but was expected to pass easily, with the support of the coalition and Labor, albeit after hours of speeches by MKs from other opposition parties.
“I represent hundreds of thousands of soldiers and reservists and part of millions of Israeli citizens who pay taxes and take part in the burden and call on them to fix the historic injustice in Israeli society since the state was established,” said Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, who led the ministerial committee that prepared the enlistment bill, as he presented the legislation to the plenum. “We don’t have the privilege of dividing the burden and the responsibility unevenly – the time has come to make a change.”
According to Peri, the bill will have a positive effect on the labor force and will bring the ultra-Orthodox community into the modern workforce.
“The era of segregation, in which we were divided, is over,” he said. “The era in which 50 percent of each age group does not serve the state and does not carry the responsibility for Israel’s economy is over. The era in which we separate secular Jews and haredi Jews, when our enemies don’t make that differentiation, is over.”
The Labor faction voted to support the bill earlier on Monday, despite what it called “many problems and injustices” that its MKs will try to change.
Labor MKs criticized the bill and expressed concern that it could even lead to a decrease in enlistment numbers, but the party decided to vote in its favor on the principle that all Israelis should serve in the IDF.
Also 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 Shelah (Yesh Atid) and Elazar Stern (Hatnua).
The committee was originally supposed to consist of six MKs, with two opposition members, but Shas and UTJ could not decide which party should send a representative, and the committee was expanded.
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon said in response to a petition by religious freedom NGO Hiddush to the High Court that the bill will not pass in its final vote during the Knesset’s summer session, which ends August 4.
The version of the ultra- Orthodox enlistment bill only mandates obligatory service in 2017. In addition, the draft law allows anyone who is 22 or 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 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 will be obligated to enlist, but able to defer service until age 21.
If the bill is passed this year, it will come into effect in 2016.
Critics 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 who refuses to serve will 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 ultra-Orthodox 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.