The Defense Ministry is drafting a bill to enable more ultra-Orthodox men to be conscripted, now that the High Court of Justice has invalidated the law governing draft exemptions for yeshiva students.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given detailed guidelines on what the bill should include to ministry legal adviser Ahaz Benari. He drafted the guidelines after meeting with senior Israel Defense Forces officers, including Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, to get their input on the legislation.
Barak's proposal calls for service for all, but on different tracks. The IDF would be given first crack at the draft pool, so it can conscript the soldiers it needs. Those not chosen by the IDF would do a year of national service in the police, the fire service, or the Magen David Adom ambulance service, or else a year of civilian service in their communities, but under much stricter supervision than has been the case until now.
Under the plan, those who do IDF service would receive compensation: a monthly salary close to the minimum wage starting in their second year of service. This salary would be saved for them until they are discharged, when they could use it for their education.
Barak and senior IDF officers also suggested making a distinction between combat and noncombat soldiers, with combat soldiers getting a higher salary.
Finally, Barak proposed that a limited number of outstanding yeshiva students be allowed to remain in yeshiva full-time rather than doing either civilian or military service. But this group would be limited to 2,000 to 3,000 men at any given time, rather than the over 8,000 who currently receive draft exemptions every year.
During the next several weeks, the IDF will set up working groups to discuss developing mechanisms for drafting Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men.
A massive draft of Haredim would have significant financial ramifications. According to a Personnel Directorate officer, a soldier in the Shahar project, which integrates Haredim into technical jobs in the army, costs the IDF five times as much as a regular soldier. This is because Haredim tend to marry young, and payments to the wife of a married conscript can reach NIS 4,000 a month.
Married soldiers also get another few hundred shekels to help them pay their rent or mortgage.
Moreover, large numbers of Haredi soldiers will force a reorganization of IDF training programs. A significant number of combat instructors are women, but the army sends only male instructors to the one Haredi battalion (Nahal Haredi) and to platoons with large numbers of yeshiva students, as well as to Druze and Bedouin battalions.
At the army's recruitment offices in Tel Hashomer yesterday, business was pretty much as usual: Teenagers were awaiting their initial army placement tests, and Haredi men were waiting to extend their draft deferments. Even with the High Court decision, the Taw Law, which governs these deferments, remains in effect until August.
Most of those waiting didn't believe that all those currently exempt would be drafted.
"I simply don't believe it will happen, unless the rabbis decide that's what should be done," said a 26-year-old Haredi man from Bnei Brak, who preferred not to give his name. "If we're drafted, we'll all go in together. The most important thing is that we be allowed to keep the commandments. If that happens, then we'll obey."