haredim ultra-Orthodox - Micha Odenheimer  - October 28 2010
Ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshiva. Photo by Micha Odenheimer
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The cabinet is expected to approve today two recommendations affecting the ultra-Orthodox community - one would release most of them from military service in exchange for alternative work in a civilian service.

The other proposal is to accept the recommendations of an interministerial committee to limit to five years the time yeshiva students can receive stipends.

To be exempt from military service according to the recommendations, Haredim would have to do a year of alternative service with the police, the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the Fire and Rescue Services or the Prison Service. The arrangement would apply to married students up to age 22 if they have no children, or bachelors over 24.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak supports the arrangement, but sources have told Haaretz that the Israel Defense Forces is not in favor of some of the recommendations, believing that the army should be able to choose the Haredim it needs before they are referred to alternative service.

The IDF is also said to believe that the minimum ages for drafting Haredim into the emergency services are too low because they exempt the ultra-Orthodox from full military service at a very early age.

IDF chief not invited

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was not invited to this morning's cabinet meeting. Brig. Gen. Amir Rogovsky, chief of planning and human resources at the personnel directorate, will represent the army. Rogovsky had been invited to address another issue at the meeting, although last night it appeared that the head of the personnel directorate, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, might speak for the IDF on the Haredim.

Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman said he would oppose the five-year cap on stipends to Haredim. "The prime minister is choosing a political compromise over a courageous decision that would bring good tidings to the Haredim and limit the inequality of the burden," he said.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer also said they would not vote for the stipends to yeshiva students. Ben-Eliezer said he opposed the plan because it does not ensure that at the end of the five years yeshiva students would be referred to vocational training or academic studies that would allow them to join the workforce.

Kadima called on Netanyahu to bring the issue to a vote in the Knesset. "Netanyahu is once again lying to the public, fleeing responsibility and selling the country's values for the sake of personal survival," Kadima said.

The prime minister apparently prefers to make do with a cabinet decision out of concern that during the legislative process, lawmakers would try to insert objections into a bill or increase the funding to students in academic frameworks beyond what the recommendations call for.

Knesset sources said the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism had tacitly agreed to the recommendations. "They understand that this is the lesser evil for them," a source in the Prime Minister's Bureau said.