Plesner criticizes lack of funds for haredi recruitment

MK slams government for failing to fulfill commitments to provide NIS 140 million for the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox to the IDF.

YOHANAN PLESNER (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset group working on the implementation of the Tal Law, accused the government on Wednesday of failing to fulfill commitments made in January to provide NIS 140 million in funding for the recruitment of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to the IDF.
The money was pledged by the government in an agreement between the Treasury and the IDF, but the funds were frozen and have not been transferred, owing to, according to the Treasury, budgetary restraints.
“It seems that the declarations and promises made in January were simply designed to convince the Supreme Court that the government is making great efforts to implement the Tal Law,” Plesner told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night. “The failure to transfer these funds has arrested the progress being made in drafting haredim into the army.”
Plesner said that the working group has demanded a “full and complete explanation” from the Treasury of the financial situation and the reasons why the funds were frozen.
The Tal Law was passed in 2002 and was designed to increase recruitment to the army from the haredi sector and consequently increase haredi participation in the work force.
The Finance Ministry also came under fire from the Hiddush equality lobbying group, which campaigns for religious freedom. Director of the organization, Rabbi Uri Regev, denounced on Wednesday the Finance Ministry’s refusal to supplement the budget of the “Shahar” IDF track aimed at drafting haredi recruits into the army as “absurd.”
The Shahar program is a one-and-a-half to two-year track, designed to draft haredi recruits and provide them with professional training for a technical position within the army. In 2011, there were 700 applicants for the Shahar program, but only 500 places available.
According to Brig.-Gen. Amir Rogovski of the IDF’s Human Resources branch, the Treasury refused to provide the extra funds required to draft the extra 200 haredi applicants.
“The refusal of the Treasury to fund the additional applicants is a scandal incomparably myopic,” Regev told the Post on Wednesday. “It’s not possible that the government can decide that drafting haredim is a vital national goal and for the Treasury to then ignore it. The prime minister has to decide whether this is a state with a treasury, or a treasury with a state.”
The Treasury’s stance is based on the fact that recruiting haredi soldiers is an expensive undertaking, since many of the recruits are married with children, which entitles any soldier to a supplementary army income of as much as NIS 5,000 a month.
According to Hiddush, the cost of drafting the extra 200 applicants would be between NIS 15-20 million.
But the cost would be offset, said Regev, by the returns the state would gain from having 200 extra educated and employable members of the work force.
Approximately 90 percent of former Shahar soldiers are now employed because of the professional training they received in the army, which Regev argues provides the state with revenue from income taxes and helps to integrate the haredi sector into Israeli society.
“It’s absurd that the state continues to fund generously yeshiva studies but refuses to fund programs that help share the burden [of national service] and helps integrate haredim into the economy and society,” Regev said.
“Spending money on haredi soldiers is an incomparably beneficial investment for the state.”
In a meeting held on the issue this week by the working group on the implementation of the Tal Law, Rogovski stated that there is no opposition within the haredi public to expanding the different IDF tracks for haredi recruits, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that without any budgetary restraints, it would be possible to increase the number of haredim enlisting to the army every year.