Itongadol.- The ongoing campaign of deligitimization being waged by ultra-Orthodox extremists against haredi soldiers is gathering strength, the IDF warned on Monday.
A sub-committee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee heard disturbing reports about the phenomenon waged in recent months by hardline haredi elements opposing the drafting of yeshiva students into the IDF against haredi soldiers.
The campaign includes the distribution of posters and fliers, harassment of soldiers and even physical attacks.
Members of the haredi community refer to ultra-Orthodox soldiers as “hardakim,” taken to mean a “weak-minded haredi” who has betrayed the community.
The word is also a portmanteau of the word harakim, Hebrew for “insects,” and “haredi.”
Speaking in the Sub-Committee for Personnel and Training, Brigadier-General Gadi Agmon from the IDF Manpower Directorate compared the rhetoric of the campaign to the Nazi propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer, noting that that phenomenon was gathering strength in an unprecedented manner.
“We’re seeing efforts to remove haredi soldiers from their neighborhoods, from synagogues and from yeshivot,” said Agmon, adding that the campaign was being conducted across the country in all major haredi population centers.
Haredi kindergartens and elementary schools have also reportedly refused to accept the children of haredi soldiers.
Agmon noted that in addition to the intense social pressure, the army has received 80 complaints of physical violence and verbal abuse, in which haredi soldiers have reported that tires of their vehicles have been slashed, graffiti has been sprayed at their homes, they have been spat on and had stones thrown at them. The general noted that family members of haredi soldiers were also being targeted by the extremists and harassed.
Despite the 80 complaints, the police has received only one formal complaint, on the basis of which it opened three criminal files. No arrests have been made to date.
Elhanan Fromer, a former IDF soldier who served in the haredi IDF Shahar track and who attended Monday’s hearing, said that if he were considering whether or not to enlist today he would chose not to because of the heavy personal price involved in the decision.
He said that synagogues frequently refuse to allow haredi soldiers to participate in prayer services, and that if they are allowed to join the minyan, or quorum of men, they are prevented from being called up to the Torah and face other sanctions.
“In haredi society, acceptance in haredi institutions is critical,” Fromer said.
Referring to the discrepancy between the number of reports of harassment known to the army and the number of formal complaints made to the police, he said that “We all know that the moment you submit a complaint, the harassment against you just gets worse.” Fromer called specifically for the state to fine any institution that prevents IDF graduates from joining them, but added that haredi soldiers were currently feeling neglected by the state.
He called attention to the absence of any haredi MKs in the committee hearing and pointed out that haredi soldiers had no communal support at all for their choice to enlist, neither from rabbis nor from politicians, and added that the failure of the state to take steps to protect haredi soldiers left them feeling completely abandoned.
Also present at the hearing was MK Elazar Stern, a former IDF major general and commander of the IDF Manpower Directorate, who called for radical measures to be taken against anyone involved in the campaign, including a parallel campaign of police harassment against suspects such as those printing fliers and posters against haredi soldiers.
“Anyone who is embittering the lives of haredi soldiers needs to have his life embittered in return. Someone who harms the state and abuses the law [while technically not infringing it] must have his life disrupted within the bounds of the law, just as we do with the most serious criminals in our midst,” said Stern.
The Hatnua MK also noted that unless the problem was solved, haredi men would stop enlisting in the armed forces altogether.
During the proceedings, Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev laid the blame for the campaign squarely at the feet of the Yesh Atid and Kadima parties for publicly advocating coercive measures against haredim not enlisting.
Yogev pointed to the increasing number of haredim who have enlisted in the last five years as proof that the situation was improving but said that the policies being advanced by the Peri committee – tasked with drawing up legislation for drafting haredim – was causing “strategic damage to the State of Israel” and had caused a regression in the battle to get more haredim to enlist in the IDF.