A fair draft

On Thursday, hundreds of haredim took to the streets in Jerusalem to protest the halt to government subsidies of yeshivas harboring draft dodgers.

Haredi protest IDF, Jerusalem, February 6, 2014 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi protest IDF, Jerusalem, February 6, 2014
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Just one day after the High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction against the state prohibiting it from transferring money to yeshivot for approximately 3,000 students of mandatory military draft age, Finance Minister Yair Lapid honored the court’s decision and stopped the monthly flow of cash.
Needless to say, ultra-Orthodox leaders and lawmakers were incensed. MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) called the High Court a “bully” and vowed that the haredi community would “wage a war against it until it becomes illegitimate.” Shas’s official response was that the court’s decision on Tuesday “contributes to the deepening divide and rift in Israeli society, and to the haredi public’s feeling that they are under attack by the media, legislators and judiciary.”
On Thursday, hundreds of haredim took to the streets in Jerusalem. Their shouts could be heard at the editorial offices of The Jerusalem Post, located on the sixth floor of the Jerusalem Capital Studios building adjacent to the IDF Induction Center.
MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), who heads a Knesset committee tasked with revising the military draft law, said the court should have waited with its decision since her committee is on the cusp of finishing its work and presenting the bill.
We believe, however, that some of the criticism directed against the High Court is simply misguided while some is unmitigated chutzpah. For years the state has dragged its feet and has failed to gradually put an end to an intolerable and unfair situation in which able-bodied 18-year-old haredim men are permitted to postpone indefinitely their military service while their secular brethren are forced to give up three years of their lives – often risking their lives in the process – to defend the State of Israel. For some time now, haredi young men have made up more than half of the 25 percent who do not enlist in the IDF every year. And due to higher natural growth rates among haredim, their relative size among the draft-dodgers grows from year to year.
If not for the High Court’s decision back in July 2012 that the “Tal Law,” which allowed this intolerable situation to continue, was unlawful because it undermined the most fundamental criteria of equality, the wholesale disregard for the law and for basic decency would have continued.
But even after this decision, lawmakers have continued to drag their feet. In July 2013, the Peri Committee, headed by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), made sweeping concessions and enshrined them in a bill. Some of these concessions included exempting altogether about 54,000 haredi men who were aged 22 or older and allowing those who were younger to postpone service until the age of 21. The IDF promised to accommodate the religious demands of the haredi men who are drafted. This was done out of the understanding that an aggressive crackdown would trigger an extremist reaction and be used by the haredi leadership to rally together a growingly diverse and independent-minded ultra-Orthodox population.
But these concessions were not enough for the haredi leadership. Peri had insisted – and continues to insist – that criminal sanctions be imposed on haredi draft-dodgers – even in another year or two when the program is fully implemented. If not, he rightly argued, the entire initiative to get more – though far from all – military-age haredi youths into the IDF would lose all substance. Nor would the proposal be in line with the principle of equality before the law. Why, after all, should a secular Israeli who dodges the draft be prosecuted as a criminal but not a haredi draft-dodger? While it is wise to avoid as much as possible a direct confrontation with the haredi community and its leaders – who will exploit the issue to perpetuate separatist tendencies and their control over this population – the government has an obligation to its constituents and to the principle of equality before the law.
The High Court’s decision to halt the transfer of taxpayers’ money to young men who should be in the IDF serving their country is a signal to our lawmakers that the status quo cannot and must not continue.