Representatives of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel's ultra-Orthodox community have apparently been holding secret talks over contentious legislation that calls for the induction of Haredi men, according to leaked information that has reached Haaretz. Talks between representatives of the army and leaders of the Lithuanian sect of the community are taking place amidst fierce controversy sparked by Knesset debate of the bill in recent months.
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Information leaked from the inner circle of the leader of the Lithuanian sect, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, ostensibly documents private conversations involving the rabbi’s associates – but not him, personally.
Dubbed the “Haredi WikiLeaks,” the information reveals that Shteinman's loyal followers have been holding talks with Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, head of planning at the IDF Manpower Directorate. Moreover, the leaks show that the Haredim have been in contact with MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), chairwoman of the special Knesset committee charged with drafting the bill demanding that most Haredi men do either military or civilian national service.
These conversations have apparently been helpful in avoiding a crisis over the drafting of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.
The leaks show that leading elements in the Haredi community have apparently drawn up a pragmatic strategy to deal with the issue, and have withdrawn their sweeping opposition to the drafting of these young men. However, the leaked information is now being used against Shteinman by rivals in that community.
The discussions were apparently leaked by one of the participants, who reportedly shared them with a small group of people. In one conversation, an associate of Shteinman’s is heard praising Shaked’s willingness to cooperate with the ultra-Orthodox, saying that she has displayed the fairness and integrity of a pilot, noting that her husband is a former fighter pilot. He seems to be hinting that Shaked would want the ultra-Orthodox to come into the coalition instead of Yesh Atid.
Other information that was leaked and reached Haaretz documents a discussion of the proposed legislation that was held in December, ahead of a convention of rabbis of the Degel Hatorah party, which is affiliated with the Lithuanian Haredi stream. The outcome of the convention was publication of a series of strong anti-draft statements, among them a declaration that the rabbis “would stand like a fortified wall against any attempts and enticements.”
But at a private meeting held before the convention at Shteinman’s house, among four of his followers, the belligerent declarations seemed to vanish and the tone became practical. The four mentioned Agmon and the intention to establish a special induction center for the ultra-Orthodox at the Tel Hashomer induction base, to make the process easier for them. (This center, where no women soldiers will serve, is slated to open in March, according to a report by Amos Harel in Haaretz.)
The four discussed postponing the opening of the center until after the law is passed, out of concern over “riots” that will break out which “would not be good for us.”
The background to the leaks is ostensibly the rivalry between the followers of Shteinman and those loyal to Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, both of the Lithuanian community. While the latter preaches that yeshiva students should not even appear at the induction center – even to arrange a proper deferment because of their religious status – Shteinman has more or less continued to say that it's necessary to cooperate with the IDF. However, Shteinman has hardened his stance over the years to some degree; for example, he revoked the permission he gave to his representatives to sit on the Tal Committee, which formulated previous legislation on drafting Haredim.
It appears the information was leaked in an attempt to undermine Shteinman and portray him as a conceder.
Journalist Benny Rabinowitz, who is Shteinman's official spokesman, called the claims that the rabbi is holding talks with the army a “complete lie,” adding “no one in the rabbi’s house has any connection to anyone in the army.”