Haredi enlistment bill passes first major Knesset hurdle

Haredi enlistment bill passes first major Knesset hurdle

Haredi MKs lash out against bill, which would expand mandatory service to almost all ultra-Orthodox men by 2020 • „This will translate into more haredim in the workforce,” says Science Minister Yaakov Peri, the chief architect of the bill.

Gideon Allon and Yehuda Shlezinger
MK Meir Porush handcuffed himself to the podium during the Knesset debate on the new enlistment bill on Monday to protest the mandatory draft of haredim

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Photo credit: Dudi Vaaknin

Legislation aimed at increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox recruits in the IDF passed its first reading in the Knesset early Tuesday morning after a long and emotional plenum debate.

The bill requires all haredi men to enlist in the military or perform national service for 24 months, although yeshiva students would be allowed to defer their service until the age of 21. The bill came more than a year after the High Court of Justice said the de facto exemption haredi youth enjoyed undermined the concept of equality and must come to an end. If it passes its next two readings, or votes, the bill will take effect after a several-year transition period that ends in 2020. Under the bill, 1,800 „outstanding” yeshiva students will be exempt from service.

Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, who chaired the committee that drafted the bill, praised the tentative passage of the bill.

 

„No longer is there a difference between secular Jewish blood and haredi-Jewish blood,” he said during the Knesset debate. „A haredi draft dodger would be subject to the same law as a secular draft dodger; the mandatory draft that applies to secular people will apply to the haredim as well, and this would translate into haredim joining the workforce in greater numbers.”

MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) handcuffed himself to the microphone at the Knesset podium to protest the bill. Army Radio reported that United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni and Israel Eichler tore their shirts, an act that symbolizes mourning in Judaism.

„Since this law is as bad as it gets, we plea before the almighty to spare us this fate,” they said, according to Army Radio. Members of the haredi parties stormed out of the Knesset plenum shortly afterwards. The haredi opposition to the bill was echoed by a piece in the United Torah Judaism-affiliated newspaper Yated Ne’eman, which lamented how the bill „would make Israel the only country that considers Torah study a criminal offense.”

More than 60 MKs asked for speaking time during the debate. Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) welcomed the bill’s impending passage. He was followed by the MKs from the Arab parties who lashed out against he bill’s provisions.

On Tuesday, MK Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) told the Kol Barama radio station that the bill is „a waste of time. No haredi will be drafted.” He further stressed that the recent attacks on haredi soldiers [by other haredim] in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods were a result of the „incitement against haredim” perpetrated by the Yesh Atid party, which has championed the new draft law.