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Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390.(Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem)
Peri panel haredi draft proposals come under fire
Critics say draft bill fails to provide appropriate incentives to encourage enlistment among ultra-Orthodox.
A draft bill drawn up to form the basis of legislation for drafting haredi men into national service has come under heavy fire for failing to provide appropriate incentives to encourage enlistment.

The proposed terms for the legislation, devised by a ministerial committee headed by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid, do not include personal financial sanctions against someone refusing to serve but instead would subject such a person to imprisonment, as is the law for all Israelis who have not been granted an exemption.

The proposals, to be fully implemented by 2017, would allow a full-time haredi yeshiva student to defer service from age 18 till age 21, after which he will be obligated to enlist in either the IDF or the civilian service or face imprisonment. At the same time, 1,800 students would be granted a complete exemption from military service every year. Currently, approximately 7,000 haredi men turn 18 every year, although estimates for this figure vary.

For the interim period, enlistment targets for haredi men would be set in the period leading up to 2017 peaking at a total of 5,200 recruits for the IDF and civilian service programs combined for 2016.

But the proposals allow for anyone who is between the age of 18 and 22 on the day the law is enacted to chose whether or not they wish to continue deferring military service, which will be permitted until age 24, after which they will be exempt.

According to the draft bill, after 2016 70 percent of the annual cohort of haredi men turning 18 must enlist every year. If this target is not met, anyone refusing to serve “will be subject to the Law of the Security Services (1986) which includes the sanctions written in that law.”

Those sanctions are imprisonment for two years.

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu threatened to vote against the bill if provisions for the obligatory enlistment of Israeli Arabs to the civilian service program after five years are not added to the bill.

The draft bill proposes a target of 6,000 Arab recruits a year for the program, five years after the enactment of the law.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who is Yisrael Beytenu’s representative on the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, said that if such provisions were not added before the bill came before the committee on Sunday, he and Yisrael Beytenu would vote against it.

Prof. Yedidya Stern, who served as a member of the Plesner Committee which drew up a plan for haredi enlistment last year, heavily criticized the new proposals, saying they would be ineffective and would severely damage the rule of law if enacted in law.

Stern argued that the threat of imprisonment would give credence to claims by hard-line haredi leaders that the state wishes to oppress the haredi community and would lead young haredi men, who might have considered enlistment, to reject the option.

Additionally, the practical impossibility of imprisoning thousands of haredi yeshiva students who would refuse to serve in national service programs would mean that the law would simply be flouted, causing severe damage to the principle of the rule of law, Stern said.

He also said that the proposals for the interim period were problematic.

Today close to 30% of haredim enlist in civilian service or the IDF, but if there is a blanket exemption for 18-22 year olds until 2016, this figure will dramatically decline, Stern said.

The proposed bill does include incentives, both positive and negative, for enlistment, but focuses them on institutions, not individuals.

If a yeshiva does not meet enlistment targets it will have its budget cut, whereas a yeshiva with high rates of enlistment will receive financial bonuses.

Further, a yeshiva dean who submits documents reporting that a man is studying at his institution but who in practice does not fulfill his quota of study hours – which will be 45 hours a week – will be subject to criminal measures.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Stern said that the proposals would not achieve the goal of increasing haredi enlistment.

“Once again, in trying to deal with the issue of increasing haredi enlistment, the State of Israel has addressed [the matter] in a careless manner which is not based on a sociological understanding that takes into account the needs of the minority groups and the needs of the state,” said Stern.

“If the state threatens to do something that it can’t carry out, such as imprisoning anyone who refuses to serve, then it will undermine the rule of law.”

Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying group, criticized the lengthy timelag until full implementation of the law, which it said could mean that it might never become operative.

“Mandatory service is being postponed by four years, perhaps to the next Knesset term, so that there is a very big chance that it will never happen,” said Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev.

The Forum for Equality in the Burden of Military Service weighed in, too, saying that “the haredim can afford themselves a big smile.”

“Instead of beginning to draft haredim immediately, as demanded by the High Court of Justice, the proposals talk about some abstract service in three years time when they’ll already be a new government and this law will be a dead letter,” the group said.

While facing heavy criticism from draft reform advocates, the proposals were also panned by haredi MKs.

“Anyone who thinks that it is possible to force enlistment on those who are studying Torah through any kind of sanctions forgets that the Jewish people has stood proudly to guard its traditions throughout history, and has withstood tough challenges with fortitude,” MK Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party said on haredi radio station Radio Kol Hai.

UTJ MK Ya’acov Litzman said that anyone seeking to impose quotas on the number of students able to study full time in yeshiva “reveals his ignorance in this complicated and sensitive field.”

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said on Thursday night that the changes being considered to address issues surrounding the “equal burden” controversy raised complex legal issues.

He added it would take approximately two weeks for him to fully formulate a final position on the issues.
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