Arrest of ultra-Orthodox Draft Dodgers Would Cause Strife, Professors Say

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The arrest of draft dodgers would not encourage yeshiva students to join the army and could lead to violence, a revolt against the draft and rabbinic prohibitions against serving, according to a letter by academics and other experts.

“In such a struggle there will be no winners, only losers. It will not achieve an equal sharing of the burden; it will only push it away even more,” reads the letter, sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other coalition leaders ahead of a Knesset vote on the issue next week.

The scholars, all experts in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, call on the governing coalition to forgo the clause mandating criminal sanctions against draft-dodging yeshiva students if draft quotas are not filled.

This clause would bring “endless trouble,” the experts warn, backing up sentiments expressed two weeks ago by President Shimon Peres. The clause, a demand by centrist party Yesh Atid that was accepted by Netanyahu, is part a bill crafted by a Knesset committee headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi).

The envisioned sanctions triggered last Sunday’s rally of hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

“Even if this move seems just and egalitarian at first glance, it will only cause damage. The Haredi community has already begun a slow process of enlisting in military and civilian national service, and taking part in the labor market,” reads the letter.

“The state has an interest in accelerating these processes to increase equality, along with the Haredi contribution to the economy and defense. A law based on criminal sanctions will be perceived as a declaration of war against the yeshiva world and as the authorities’ disrespect for the value of Torah study. It is likely to halt the integration of the Haredi community and lead the country to a serious social rift.”

The experts include Prof. Menachem Friedman, author Dov Elbaum, Dr. Benny Brown, Dr. Neri Horowitz, Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon, Prof. Aviad Hacohen and Prof. Yedidia Stern, vice chairman of research at the Israel Democracy Institute.

They also include commentators and journalists who have covered the Haredi community for years, among them Avirama Golan, Yair Sheleg, Amnon Levy and Shahar Ilan. The latter is deputy director of the religious rights group Hiddush, which spearheaded the letter.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem this week. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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