Even before its meetings ended, the Ministerial Committee on Sharing the Burden, also known as the Perry Committee, gave a kashrut certificate to the partial draft evasion of hesder yeshiva students. The committee decided the soldiers from hesder yeshivas, where the students combine 16 months of army service with their studies in yeshivas affiliated mostly with the religious Zionist stream, will in the future only have to serve 17 months in the IDF, a mere one month more than they do now − which is still less than half the service of regular soldiers.
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The committee considered extending the service of the yeshiva students to two years, but surrendered to the demands of Habayit Hayehudi, whose members refused to listen to any extension of more than a month. The leader of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett, made a show his military background during the election campaign and was photographed in his paratrooper’s boots; but after reaching a central position in the government, he fought for the shortened service of the religious Zionist youth. The practitioner of “new politics” was revealed as a sectoral representative just like his predecessors. Speak grandly about equality in sharing the burden for others, and help your voters evade the army.
Bennett’s hypocrisy, as outrageous as it is, pales compared to that of Education Minister Shay Piron from Yesh Atid, the party of “equal sharing of the burden.” During the election campaign Piron spoke out against the shortened hesder service route. But once he stretched out in his ministerial chair, he forgot about his voters and returned to his tribal loyalties. This is what he wrote to the committee: “It is impossible that just now, when religious Zionism is a senior partner in the leadership of the state, the result of the process of equalizing the sharing of the burden − which was intended in the main to integrate those who are not partners − will harm the world of Zionist Torah [studies], which trains the spiritual leadership connected to the state and society.” In other words, we came to draft Haredim and Arabs, and to preserve easy duty for our own. The hesder yeshivas have succeeded in marketing their enterprise as an example and wonder of motivation for service in combat units, with the support of the IDF and the political establishment. The award of the Israel Prize in 1991 to the hesder yeshiva program was explained by its “fulfillment of the Zionist vision in a special way, with the blending of book and sword.”
This poetry hides the true nature of the hesder yeshiva program: Granting extra rights to a group with the political power to look after the conditions of their sons’ military service. Their motivation may be high, but not high enough to serve even half the time their nonreligious “brothers” spend in the army.
Israel needs civilian, economic and scientific leadership, much more than it needs more rabbis and Torah scholars. Instead of fighting to preserve this sweet deal for his friends in the yeshivas, Piron could also offer a hesder, which means “arrangement” in Hebrew, for secular students to combine their studies with military service. But the nonreligious have no lobby, and they will continue to carry the full burden of the regular draft, without discounts and shortcuts − but with the kashrut certificate of the Perry Committee.