Yesh Atid MK warns against decriminalizing haredi draft-dodging

Issue is heightening political tensions once again as committee dealing with government bill gets closer to completing its work.

Yaakov Peri 370 (photo credit: Knesset)
Yaakov Peri 370
(photo credit: Knesset)
Senior Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri spoke out again on Wednesday against any effort to prevent criminal sanctions being leveled against yeshiva students refusing to perform national service.
The issue of haredi enlistment is heightening political tensions once again, as the committee dealing with the government bill on the matter gets closer to completing its work.
Peri spoke at the southern town of Sderot in a conference held in Sapir College, saying that criminal sanctions against haredi men refusing to serve was “the central pillar” of the proposed law and that Yesh Atid would not back down on this aspect of the bill under any circumstances.
“Any attempt to prevent the implementation of obligatory service will encounter uncompromising opposition from us,” said Peri, who headed the ministerial committee which drew up the bill.
The main issue currently dividing the members of the Knesset’s committee reviewing the bill is whether or not to apply criminal or economic sanctions to someone refusing to serve.
Those in favor of criminal sanctions, which are currently applicable to all Jewish citizens other than haredim, insist that this is the only way to ensure equality before the law as well as preserving the IDF’s conscription based system and the principle of “the people’s army,” as it is referred to.”
Opponents to criminal sanctions say that criminalizing an ideological position of as large a sector of the population as the haredi community will damage the notion of the rule of law, since it will not be possible to implement the provisions of the sanctions which stipulate imprisonment for anyone refusing to serve.
In addition, they argue that criminalization will reverse the significant progress made in haredi enlistment since 2007.
In 2011, the last year for which concrete figures are available, 28 percent, or over a quarter, of eligible haredi men for that annual intake enlisted for military or national service.
Peri insisted however that the bill leaves it up to haredi society to determine whether or not the criminal sanctions are applied. If targets set by the proposed law are met then no-one would be considered to be refusing service.
Also speaking at the Sderot Conference was Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Knesset’s committee reviewing the bill, who says that using financial penalties is a negative incentive for enlistment for haredi men.
Shaked said that it was important to “be wise, not right,” when dealing with the issue.
“We need to work with the haredi leadership,” she said.
“If they don’t fulfil the [enlistment] targets then we need to impose not criminal sanctions. This is something haredi society can accept.”
Professor Yedidya Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute, who spoke at a hearing of the special committee on Tuesday, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that financial sanctions would be sufficiently harsh as to have the desired effect of getting haredi yeshiva students to leave their studies and enlist.
Stern said that the threats of criminalization contained within the government bill have led directly to an intense campaign in haredi society against army service and even to a decrease in the level of haredi enlistment, witnessed before the current government was formed.