haredim - Alex Levac - December 6 2010
The admor of the Premishlan Hasidic court in Bnei Brak, last week. Photo by Alex Levac
Text size

The cabinet approved on Sunday the reform in the draft of Haredim into the Israel Defense Forces. While the reform exempts married yeshiva students from the draft in exchange for one year of duty in the emergency services, it attempts to increase significantly the number of ultra-Orthodox who are conscripted into the army.

The cabinet approved a NIS 200 million budget for the absorption of more Haredim into the army and for work programs in the military, particularly in technological training.

The goal is to recruit 2,400 Haredim in 2015, compared to the 985 recruited in 2010. Another 2,400 are expected to serve a year in the emergency services by 2015.

The government wants to present the reform as unprecedented in increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox serving in the army, and to play down that there are broad exemptions from conscription. In practice, it is offering married yeshiva students an enticing proposition - a year of civil service in exchange for exemption from conscription and no reserve duty.

Currently, a married yeshiva student with children can do non-military service instead of being conscripted into the military at age 22. A married yeshiva student who does not have children is allowed to do such service only from age 26 onward, instead of serving in the army. The reform will allow the childless yeshiva students to do non-military service at 22.

Twenty three ministers voted in favor of the reform, two abstained (Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Dan Meridor ), and one objected (Avishay Braverman ).

Meridor said that he abstained because he believes there needs to be equality in conscription to the IDF and therefore his stance is one of principle.

Ben-Eliezer said that the proposed reform does not sufficiently contribute to the inclusion of the Haredim in the workforce.

Braverman said he opposed the reform for being "a drop in the ocean." He added: "The plan will enshrine the current situation, which means there are those who serve and there are those who dodge."

The leading party in the opposition, Kadima, issued a statement charging that "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is legitimizing draft dodging in exchange for his [political] survival."

Kadima also criticized what it described as an attempt to "trick" the High Court, which is due, on January 30, to hear the state's response on the implementation of the Tal Law on Haredi conscription.

Netanyahu countered by saying that the proposed reform promotes equality and the sharing of the burden of civic responsibility.

The cabinet was due to vote on the reform in conscripting married yeshiva students three weeks ago. However, in an unusual move, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi publicly expressed his opposition to segments of the reform.

Ashkenazi said the age of 22 is too young for exempting the Haredim from military service. Also, the army wanted to be the deciding voice on who would be allowed to exchange conscription for non-military service, while the reform gives that right to the yeshiva student.

In response to public pressure, Netanyahu delayed the vote. Sources close to the prime minister attributed the delay to insufficient time during the cabinet meeting three weeks ago to complete the discussion of the issue.

The differences between the reform proposed three weeks ago and the one approved yesterday are minimal. The reform is based on the recommendations of a team headed by Eyal Gabai, the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, which sought to encourage Haredim to join the workforce. In both packages, 22-year-old Haredim are given the option to be exempt from conscription in exchange for a single year of civil service.

A main difference is that the reform approved yesterday requires that the yeshiva student do his non-military service in one of the emergency services - firefighting, for example. The previous reform package exempted married yeshiva students from this requirement at age 24 and had them serving in Haredi community organizations.