More Arabs, haredim volunteering for alternatives to IDF

Knesset State Control Committee discusses national service; nat'l service undertaken at home will no longer be valid.

haredi crowds 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
haredi crowds 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the shadow of the government decision to limit funding for yeshiva students to five years, the Knesset’s State Control Committee met Monday to discuss national service and other options for those with draft exemptions or deferrals.
During the meeting, the Civilian and National Service Authority presented data indicating an increase in the number of volunteers for service, both in the haredi and Arab sectors. The hearing addressed a number of the issues listed by State Comptroller Michael Lindenstrauss in a recent report on the types of service.
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In response to Lindenstrauss’s criticism, national service undertaken from home will no longer be considered valid, and further restrictions have been put in place to limit nepotism. MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi), who took over leadership of the hearing from committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima), expressed satisfaction that the majority of problems detailed in the report had been corrected.
Sar-Shalom Jerbi, director of the authority, told MKs that the number of participants in both service tracks had steadily risen throughout the past five years. The across-the-board increases, he said, were particularly notable in the Arab sector, where the leadership has opposed the authority’s projects. He added that one of the sector’s service coordinators had been badly beaten and required hospitalization. Arab volunteers, he related, are called traitors in the street and are shunned although their service is carried out within the Arab sector.
Nevertheless, he said, the number of Arab volunteers had risen over the past five years from 240 to 1,459.
“There is constantly additional demand, and the people themselves are voting with their feet in favor of civil service,” he said.
The committee debate heated up when the subject switched to haredi participation within the framework of the Tal Law. Jerbi told the MKs that 1,552 haredi men currently perform civilian service, whereas less than two years ago, in February 2009, there were a mere 570. The target group for the Tal program, he explained, were men who had received draft deferments for at least four years of Torah study and were either single and over the age of 26, or over the age of 22 with at least one child.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) responded that “as over half of those who are qualified for the draft do not carry their share of the burden, these numbers are still a drop in the sea.”
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) snapped back that the details only served to prove that the “media” had been wrong, and that there were high levels of motivation for national and even military service among haredi men.
“The army doesn’t want the haredim,” complained Ze’ev. “The Finance Ministry restricts them to specific units, and they could have doubled the current ‘Blue Dawn’ project to integrate haredim in the IAF from 1,400 to 3,000. They need to take down more barriers and open more places and more tracks for haredi volunteers.”
According to Hiddush, an organization that tracks matters of religion and state, there are approximately 62,500 haredi men of draft age who currently receive IDF deferments, as opposed to 45,500 five years ago.
“IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has warned about the lack of manpower in the IDF and called for the draft of the yeshiva students,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, director-general of Hiddush, in advance of the hearing. “But instead of making an effort to draft haredim, the government completely gives up on them.”
Hasson said equality of service was “possible for all sectors, and I am not willing to accept the statement that the army is not capable of absorbing the haredim. The nation’s army must know how to deal with the nation.”