A realistic haredi draft

The benefits of gradual integration of the haredi population in mandatory military service are obvious.

Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The newly elected 19th Knesset has a record number of rookie MKs. They bring with them yet-unspoiled idealism, enthusiasm and fresh new energies to an institution that is too often characterized by the hardball realism of political maneuvering, backroom deals and – above all – compromising one’s ideals.
A clash of perspectives – on the one hand, optimistic yearning for positive change and on the other, sober pragmatism verging on cynicism – is inevitable.
Indeed, the old-timers who managed to hold onto their seats in the January 22 elections have launched an attack on the “hopelessly idealistic” newcomers, particularly the many freshmen MKs that makeup the Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi lists.
The seasoned veteran politicians claim that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi must learn to play the political game of give and take. Nowhere have the calls for pragmatic recognition of the realities of political compromise been more vocal than with regard to universal draft.
Their lack of political experience has made Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi MKs stubbornly hold to their demand to end haredi exceptionalism, say the veterans.
But we say more power to the “idealists.” We call on the new lawmakers to cling to the ideal of “sharing the burden.”
And a recently released recommendation published by the Israel Democracy Institute has made these freshmen MKs’ job a little easier.
By presenting yet another reasonable solution to haredi draft-dodging, the Israel Democracy Institute has helped rookie MKs stand up to the cynics. Economists Avi Ben- Bassat and Momi Dahan and law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer have laid out an ambitious but practical plan for gradually integrating haredi men into the IDF entitled, “Haredim to the IDF: ‘Shall your brethren go to war and shall you sit here? [Numbers 31,6]’” The idea is to have the IDF gradually over eight years reach the goal of drafting 80 percent of approximately 9,000 haredi men who make up the yeshiva equivalent of the high school graduating class every year. In the first year, 10% will be drafted, in the second year 20% etc., until in the eighth year the goal is reached.
The truly unique aspect of the plan is that all those who are not enlisted or who are already aged 20 or older will be exempted from military service altogether, which allows them to leave the yeshiva and join the workforce without having to fear they will be drafted.
In presenting their 46-page plan, IDI’s researchers dispel a lot of disinformation. For instance, they reject outright claims made by Shas MKs such as Eli Yishai that many haredi men already serve in the IDF. In reality, in recent years only about 5% of the haredi equivalent of the high school graduation class for a given year serve compared to around 80% among the nonharedi population.
The researchers also dismantle the haredi claim that the IDF does not want or need haredim because it would cost too much to train them and provide them with the proper environment, such as super kosher food and gender segregation. In reality, claims Ben-Bassat, the integration of haredim at the ages of 18 and 19 costs only a little more than non-haredi soldiers. And drafting increasingly larger numbers of haredim – who currently make up about a fifth of all Jewish males aged 18 – would make it possible to reduce mandatory military service for everyone from three years – the longest in any Western country where there is mandatory military service – to just two years.
A more equal sharing of the burden would foster social cohesion and help combat ingrained resentment felt by some segments of the non-haredi population that can hurt a haredi person’s chances of finding a job.
The benefits of gradual integration of the haredi population in mandatory military service are obvious while maintaining the status quo will cause increasing damage to the economy, hurt motivation to serve among non-haredim and undermine social cohesion.
The record number of freshmen MKs elected to the 19th Knesset reflects undercurrents within Israeli society yearning for a fresh approach to politics. Rookies should not give in to the cynicism and pessimism disguised as realism and compromise advocated by veteran MKs. A historic opportunity to bring about a more egalitarian “sharing of the burden” must not be squandered in the name of “political realism.”