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Reading the fine print of the “Haredi draft” bill reveals an unpleasant surprise

by Noga Gur-Arieh

March 13, 2014 | 10:20 am

Protests earlier in the month in Jerusalem. Photo via JTA (Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)

Yesterday, Israel’s Knesset passed a law requiring Haredi, Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. This so called "revolutionary" bill was  supposed to be a step forward for the Israeli society. Instead, the bill, also known as the "Equal service bill," failed its purpose. The only ones pleased with it are members of the Knesset coalition, and this bill truly favors only with them. As for the rest of the public…


Members of the opposition: The “draft” bill was part of a package deal of three bills that were put to a vote, and caused quite an outrage in the Knesset. This past week, the Knesset put to vote three controversial bills: The first one deals with the Haredi draft to the IDF, the second one suggests raising the threshold for parties entering parliament, and the third one calls to pass a referendum on issues involving land transfers as part of the peace talks. However, this past weekend, members of the opposition discovered a document, signed by members of the coalition, on which they commit to support all three bills.


The document, which was revealed to the public by Ynet, cites the coalition's "need to complete the legislative process, strengthen the coalition and meet its goals and obligations to the public." What it basically means is that since the Knesset is about to close its Winter session soon and reconvene only in summer, coalition leaders wanted these bills to pass as quickly as possible, with fewer objections, in order to prevent the final vote from being postponed to a later time.


In response, the members of the opposition boycotted the Knesset assemblies and did not participate in any of the votes. To them, this document was a non-democratic act. They mentioned the importance of further discussion on those controversial bills and were outraged with the way the bills passed (of course, this act of rebellion did not change the fact that the bills passed, and with zero objection, no less.)


The Haredi public: The "Haredi draft" bill was long overdue. For years now members of the Knesset has made attempts to create this very basic equality in our society, but no one ever succeeded because of the Haredi political power and influence. In this Knesset, for the first time in many years, Ultra-Orthodox parties found themselves in the opposition – a situation that gave a "green light" to the "draft" bill.


This bill caused an outrage (and even this is an understatement) amongst the Haredi public. They do not want to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. To them, this bill is a death sentence. They are also not planning on letting go so easily. They will continue to revolt and will make the lives of those trying to force them into the army a living hell. Moreover, in the not distant future, when they will return to the coalition, they would probably use their political power to somehow reverse this law or change it to their advantage.


The rest of the Israeli population: While most of the Israeli public is content with the idea of Haredim finally "sharing the burden" and serving in the army, a look at the fine print of the "draft" bill changes the facial expression of almost every reader: Under the law, Haredi men would be criminally charged for evading the draft, but the penalties would not go into effect until 2017. This is also the year when the recruitment of 5200 Haredi men (out of tenths of thousands who evades their draft) would be completed. Moreover, draft orders for Haredi men up to age 26 will not go into effect until up to a year after the law is implemented. In addition, the Haredi men would be able to postpone their recruitment every year until they reach the age of 24. If that's not enough, there will be a number of "prodigies" who would be allowed to avoid their military service and continue their biblical studies.  Is this equality?


If you ask me, a former IDF soldier and an Israeli, this bill, with its good original intentions to create equality in our society, would have been better put aside. At the end of the day, the fine print suggests this bill is very far from creating equality. When I was 18, no one asked me if I wanted to serve in the IDF. Our recruitment day is a given fact from the day we are born, and an important part of our Israeli identity. For some reason, which originated decades ago, when it comes to the Ultra-Orthodox population, the rules somehow change. Every time I visited the recruitment center, whether it was on my recruitment day, my brother's or my cousin's, I saw young Haredi men leave the building, smiling and laughing. For some reason, they have been allowed to do what the rest of us can't even imagine and I keep wondering why. If you would've asked 18-year old me if I rather serve in the IDF or study, I would have enrolled to the University in no time, but no one asked and I knew two years of my life would be dedicated to my country. So why do THEY get to choose?


With all of that being said, I am not in favor of this "Haredi draft" bill. I don't think it truly represents anyone, besides the members of the Knesset coalition. I think it will not cause equality in its current form. The Haredi men who would not want to serve (of course, not all Haredi men avoid their military service) would not fit into the IDF properly and can cause nothing but damage. Moreover, fitting the Ultra-Orthodox into the military system can sometimes come at the expense of women, since they cannot serve alongside the Better Sex.


What would be best for all, in my opinion, would be to face the Haredi population (and maybe, in the near future, the entire population) with a choice: join the IDF or contribute to the country in some other way, such as volunteer work with non-profit organizations, hospitals, etc. This way, EVERYONE would give something back, and we will take one step further towards equality.

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