Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday morning during a post-“Tal Law” hearing on haredi national service participation that “what was, will not be.”
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee discussed the legal situation pertaining to men aged 18 and over who until August 1, 2012, deferred their military service through full-time yeshiva study.
Barak said there is no legal vacuum following the law’s expiration and the 1986 Law for Military Defense is now operative, requiring the drafting of every male of military age.
This status quo will persist until the Knesset passes new legislation when it reconvenes from its summer recess after October 15.
In light of the logistical problems involved in drafting thousands of haredim into national service, the defense minister said 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 referred to the necessity of expanding current IDF tracks for haredi recruits, including combat roles, hitech units and Home Front Command; and providing for their enlistment in the police, prison and emergency services.
He said that there should be “several more combat battalions” of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, similar to the current Netzah Yehuda haredi battalion, and added that integration of haredim into the army should not in any way infringe on equal opportunities for women in the army.
“These things cannot be decided by [swinging] an ax, 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, focusing in particular on why, if the army was in need of haredi manpower, proposals are being made to outsource them to the emergency services.
He also 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 of which are exempt from military and national service.
Eldad 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 has been formed in regards to how the interim solution will take shape.
Barak said that “no one expects the solution to be formed tomorrow; we will have something within a month.”
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) said it would be hard for the IDF to deal 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 the prime minister “chose to support the draft dodgers over those who serve.”
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said that “it is not possible to change haredi society through legislation” and that the current tracks for haredi 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 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 (United Torah Judaism), chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said that if budgets are cut for yeshivot, 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 (Kadima) over his behavior during the hearing, said 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,” said Gafni.
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 they would not be drafted until their deferrals expires.
Blass also said that his office was trying to find ways to maintain funding for yeshivot – 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 last week seeking to prevent continued funding for yeshivot mandated under the Tal Law.
Bar-On said the committee would reconvene during September to follow up on the progress of the IDF committee working on the interim framework.