Change without coercion

Integration is an evolutionary process that can be nurtured, even encouraged, but that cannot be forced.

Haredi combat soldiers 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi combat soldiers 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In the wake of the Tal Law’s demise, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faces tough choices. He could try to patch together yet another ad hoc Tal Law-like arrangement with the haredi parties that would maintain, with a few cosmetic changes, the present “status quo” that enables 60,000-plus draft-age haredi men to skirt military service.
Doing so would place him in direct confrontation with Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who has already said publicly that he will not tolerate any more stopgap arrangements with the ultra-Orthodox and that the time has come to settle the issue of haredi draft-dodging once and for all.
Appeasing the haredim would also hurt Netanyahu’s popularity among many Israelis who are rightly convinced that the present situation is, as Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer pointed out last year, “unsustainable.”
Over half of haredi families live under the poverty line, since haredi men cannot legally work as long as they indefinitely postpone mandatory military service to devote themselves to Torah study. This creates an increasingly draining burden on those Israelis who are productive and support the welfare state.
According to a 2007 Bank of Israel study, 70 percent of ultra-Orthodox men were neither employed nor actively seeking employment. Haredi draft-dodging is also undermining the “people’s army ethos” that posits that all able-bodied men should take part in the defense of the country. About a quarter of all 18-year-old Jewish men do not enlist in the IDF, over half of whom are haredi. In 2011, 72.5% of 18-years-old Tel Avivians were drafted. In Bnei Brak, 12.6% were.
Alternatively, Netanyahu could opt to draft legislation opposed by Shas and United Torah Judaism – the two haredi coalition partners – that would put significant pressure on haredim to enlist in the IDF or perform some other form of national service. This might appease Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu and the grassroots movements pushing for a more equal sharing of the military burden. But it would also precipitate the collapse of the government coalition.
The haredi parties – faced with the prospect of the forced draft of tens of thousands of yeshiva students – would likely leave the government. Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach, the unrivaled leader of haredi Jewry in Israel who passed away in 2001, declared that it was better to emigrate than to be drafted into the IDF. Without the haredi parties, the prime minister would have no choice but to call early elections.
Haredi politicians would undoubtedly see the electoral potential in fostering feelings of victimization and religious persecution. Netanyahu might also be tempted to take the route of coercion.
Taking a strong stand against the haredim might increase Netanyahu’s popularity, take away voters from Israel Beiteinu and preempt Yair Lapid and Kadima who are likely to run on campaigns calling to draft the ultra-Orthodox. However, though we empathize with the desire to force haredim to accept a more equitable share of national responsibility, it would be unwise and counterproductive to use coercion.
In nearly every realm of their lives, haredim are undergoing rapid changes, despite the opposition of official haredi leadership.
From colleges that cater exclusively to the haredi population that are producing haredi lawyers, accountants, social workers, computer programmers and psychologists, to widespread Internet use. An entire genre of fiction, including science fiction, written by haredim for haredim has developed and popular haredi parental guidance literature, influenced by Western psychology, now advises parents to replace strict hierarchical relationships between parents and children with a more democratic, liberal-minded approach as a means of stemming defections among haredi youths.
The best way of retarding this process of integration – which includes a growing number of haredi men who are enlisting in the IDF – would be to launch an offensive against the haredi community. Integration is an evolutionary process that can be nurtured, even encouraged, but that cannot be forced.