IDF Seeks to Thwart Harassment of Haredi Recruits

Army to ask law enforcement officials to probe threats against ultra-Orthodox men who enlist.

In the wake of multiple complaints from ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) soldiers who say they have been harassed for enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces, the army said it would ask law enforcement officials to help prevent such incitement and threats.

The IDF said it would ask Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to instruct police to identify the individuals who have been threatening the Haredi soldiers. Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni is formulating a request that would prompt police to probe incidents of harassment and to take action against those responsible.

In the two weeks since the Perry Committee, tasked with formulating draft legislation for Haredi recruitment, submitted its recommendations, the army has received dozens of complaints from Haredi soldiers who say members of their community have abused them verbally over their decision to enlist. Some have even complained of violence against them.

With the increased attention on the issue of conscription, the hostility toward military service and also toward those who serve has increased among the Haredi public. The IDF Manpower Directorate at the General Staff has opened a hotline for dealing with soldiers’ complaints and thus far dozens of calls have been documented. The General Staff has also expressed concern that the phenomenon could lower the rate of enlistment among Haredim in the coming months.

Haredi soldiers in the Nahal Haredi battalion and those serving in technological and logistical roles in the track known as Shahar (an acronym for the track that integrates Haredim into the army) have reported experiencing jeers and humiliations. A number of soldiers have complained that their car tires have been punctured and others have found posters in their stairwells or on the doors of their homes that demean Haredim who choose to serve in the army.

Soldiers have said they have received demands to quit the army and have been told they would not be welcome to worship in their neighborhood synagogues on the Sabbath. There have also been reports of children being expelled from ultra-Orthodox kindergartens because of their fathers’ army service.

The army has allowed a number of Haredi soldiers who have been harassed to report for duty in civilian clothing instead of in uniform, to avoid attracting unwanted attention. “The Haredi soldiers’ complaints are coming in from all around the country – from Safed, Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and other towns," an army source said. "It is a widespread phenomenon.”

From January through May of this year, 202 Haredi males enlisted in the army's Shahar track, twice the number during the same period last year and the number of recruits to Nahal Haredi has nearly doubled as compared to last year as well. However, Shahar is expected to recruit the bulk of its new troops this September – and by then the influence of the negative attitude among some in the Haredi public may have a ripple effect.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with Haredi conscription procedures have said that the enlistment figures for this year are somewhat deceptive. They say fewer conscripts are coming from large Ashkenazi communities in central Israel (such as Bnei Brak) and more Sephardi men from outlying areas, where opposition to military service remains low, are enlisting.

"The incitement campaign underway against Haredi recruits is extremely disturbing and there is no doubt it will have repercussions on recruitment," a senior IDF officer told Haaretz on Wednesday. "I hope the state will act to stop the incitement and the violence. We are concerned for the soldiers’ safety.”

IDF representatives who appeared before the Perry Committee warned that such incitement could also lead to physical harm to Haredi soldiers.

Alex Levac