Barak: Interim solution for haredi enlistment on the way
Israel - Defense Minister Ehud Barak emphasized Monday morning during a hearing of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on haredi national service participation that “what was, will not be.”
The hearing was called to discuss the legal situation pertaining to men aged 18 and over who until now have deferred their military service through full time yeshiva study within the framework established by the Tal Law, which expired on August 1.
Barak underlined that there is no legal vacuum following the law’s expiration and that the 1986 Law for Military Defense is now operative, requiring the drafting of every male of military age. This state of affairs will persist until the Knesset passes new legislation, a process which can only begin anew after October 15 when the Knesset reconvenes from its summer recess.
In light of the logistical problems involved in drafting the thousands of haredim previously exempt from national service, the defense minister reiterated that he has instructed the IDF to form, within 30 days, an interim framework for increasing the draft of haredi men that “reflects the High Court ruling, the needs of the IDF and its values, and increases the share of the military burden.”
Barak mentioned again the necessity of expanding current IDF tracks for haredi recruits, including combat roles, hi tech units, opening up the Home Front Command to haredi men and providing for their enlistment in the police, prison, and emergency services.
He said that there should be “several more combat battalions” of haredi soldiers, similar to the current Netzach Yehuda haredi battalion, and added that integration of haredim into the army should not in any way infringe equal opportunities for women in the army.
“These things cannot be decided by [swinging] an axe but the haredim should also understand that the previous situation will not continue,” Barak concluded.
Committee member MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) asked several pointed questions of the defense minister, questioning in particular why, if the army was in need of haredi manpower, proposals are being made to outsource them to the emergency services.
In addition, he asked why the ruling of the High Court of Justice to strike down the Tal Law as discriminatory is not being similarly applied to the Arab community, members if which are exempt from military and national service.
Eldad also criticized the politicization of the haredi enlistment issue saying that it was “too important to abandon to politicians who are only interested in upcoming elections.”
MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) who led efforts to formulate new legislation to replace the Tal Law said that despite Barak’s words, no clear picture had been formed of how the interim solution will take shape.
Barak repeated that the army was still drafting the new formula and that although “no-one expects the solution to be formed tomorrow, we will have something within a month.”
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz said that it would be hard for the IDF to deal the with the issue within a month, and reiterated Kadima’s position that state benefits should be withheld from anyone refusing to serve, even within the framework of an interim solution.
He also took the opportunity to blame Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the failure to agree on new legislation to replace the Tal Law saying that he “chose to support the draft dodgers over those who serve.”
Haredi MK Nissim Ze’ev of the Shas party stated that “it is not possible to change haredi society through legislation” and said that the current tracks for hardi recruits need to be expanded to increase enlistment from the sector, in keeping with Barak’s general proposal.
He also accused Plesner of acting out of political motives saying that he never intended to solve the problem of haredi enlistment and “brought us to the current depths which we now find ourselves in.”
MK Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knessert Finance Committee and one of the most senior haredi politicians, said angrily that if budgets are cut for yeshivas then he would demand that funding for university students who have not served in the army also be cut.
Gafni, who was officially warned twice by committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On over his behavior during the hearing, declared angrily that it was insulting to accuse the haredi community of not contributing to society, claiming that “everyone recognizes” that relative to its size the ultra-Orthodox community has the widest participation in voluntary activities.
“To come and tell us to volunteer, to integrate? Maybe you should stop educating your children to be ignorant and integrate with us, not the opposite,” he shouted.
As to the legal status of haredi men who have until now legally received deferment of their military service, the deputy legal adviser to the Knesset Mike Blass said that they would not be drafted until his deferral expires
Blass also said that his office was trying to find ways to maintain funding for yeshivas in light of the expiration of the Tal Law, through which state funds were channeled to such institutions.
The Hiddush religious-freedom lobbying group submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice last week seeking to prevent continued funding for yeshivas mandated under the Tal Law.
Bar-On said that the committee would reconvene during September to follow up on the progress of the IDF committee working on the interim framework.