Regev Responds

A missed opportunity

The Law for Equality in Sharing the Burden will do exactly the opposite of its intent

As the Shaked Committee finishes up its final touches on preparing the Haredi Draft Law for its final votes in the Knesset, the Israeli public will slowly realize that there is no equality in this law, only dissapointment.

Press conference of Yeshatid after approval criminal sanctions in Shaked committee. Ofer Shelah, Yair Lapid, Jacob Perry. 20.02.14,  Photo: Gideon Markowitz, Flash 90Press conference of Yeshatid after approval criminal sanctions in Shaked committee. Ofer Shelah, Yair Lapid, Jacob Perry. 20.02.14, Photo: Gideon Markowitz, Flash 90

Rarely do we see issues in Israeli politics where rhetoric and the truth behind it are so far apart. Last week's protracted votes in the Shaked Committee to prepare the Equality in Sharing the Burden Law (for Haredi draft) has shown just that. The law has enjoyed a great deal of publicity under the guise of legislation mandated by the Supreme Court and the Israeli voters' expectations from last year’s Knesset elections. However, the specifics of the law proposal are unfortunately incapable of achieving equality in sharing Israel's civic burden.

This issue is further from the public eye outside of Israel, but it is one of the most hotly-contested issues for the Israelis today. Hiddush has played an active role in the Knesset and among government leaders. We analyzed the relevant areas of contention and presented our position to policymakers, the media, and the general public. Recognizing our expertise, Hiddush's materials extensively have been used by the Shaked Committee.

The battle over sanctions

One of the key controversies in the legislative process was over the sanctions for yeshiva students who do not enlist in the army. For a while, it seemed like reason would prevail and the committee chair MK Ayelet Shaked and her party, Habayit Hayehudi would accept Hiddush's suggestions to penalize draft dodgers with economic sanctions, not criminal penalties. They gave the impression that they understood the unrealistic and negative consequences of forcing the military draft on the haredi community using prison penalties.

As the committee chair MK Shaked admitted herself: "Anyone who talks about equal civic responsibility is making a mistake. There is no equality"

At the last minute, the committee succumbed to Yesh Atid's threats to leave the coalition if criminal sanctions were not adopted. This agreement was clearly political, made because of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid's willingness to perpetuate privileges and preferential treatment enjoyed by the Zionist hesder yeshiva system, (combining study in yeshiva and expanded economic benefits with 17 months in the army, while other young men are serving 36 months). This program's participants and supporters make up a main political base for Habayit Hayehudi.

Following the Shaked Committee's vote last week, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid leadership were quick to hold a press conference triumphantly announcing that a "65 year old historic distortion has been rectified and Zionism is back."

In describing the “mending” of this historic distortion and an end to the preferential treatment of haredim, Lapid stated that, "as of next month, every haredi youth will receive a draft summons." Even these few words that Lapid used demonstrate how misleading and illusory his interpretation is. The haredi youth will receive a summons for the first call for medical checkups and bureaucratic processing, but there is a long way to go until they are drafted. Simply put, if the present bill is adopted, it will ensure that most of the haredi youth will not be called to the army.

Taking a closer look at the bill

The bill will only take effect in 4 years (after the next elections) and will base haredi service on draft quotas. Yeshiva students will volunteer to fill those quotas and if they are not met, sanctions will be used. The major problem is that these target quotas

are subject to change and the government may choose to lower them rather than implement the sanctions.

In 2017, the government set the quota for 3,200 yeshiva students to voluntarily enlist in the army in addition to 2,000 who will join the civil service. The full exemption from service that will be given to haredi yeshiva students in the meantime, and then – beyond the age of 26 will make it impossible to achieve these draft quotas. Furthermore, the definition of haredi for the purpose of the law was expanded to include many non-haredi Jews. There is an increased fear that the greatly limited service would mostly apply to Sephardi students and not to the Ashkenazi yeshiva population. As the committee chair MK Shaked admitted herself: "Anyone who talks about equal civic responsibility is making a mistake. There is no equality"

These quotas are reminiscent of dark times in Jewish history when European regimes imposed enlistment quotas on the Jewish community, creating internal tensions and resulting in arbitrary selection of recruits that favored those close to the plate. We must remember, this isn't just a symbolic battle over equality, this is the effort to provide Israel's military with the best possible soldiers.

The army should be given the ability to choose its recruits with the exception of a small number of elite students. Hiddush recommended 1500 students, and the law will allow 1800. We emphasized the need to implement objective testing to choose these students, but the law as it stands now will allow the yeshivas to decide. This policy is a sure way of basing the selection of students on political and family pressures instead of a fair unbiased procedure.

This arrangement this will provide the army with bodies, but not necessarily able-bodied soldiers nor the sharpest minds. Rather than look at the military's needs, the bill primarily responded to political circumstances, and does not allow to army to choose from those best fit to serve.

While the haredi leadership is united in denouncing compulsory service and criminal sanctions, there are a number of reliable reports that many of the haredi leaders are quietly smiling: they realize that this law will not bring the majority of the yeshiva students into the army ranks.

It is important to note one minor victory. The legislative proposal will postpone the exemption age from 24 to 26. Our assumption is that if exemptions were given at age 24, most yeshiva students wouldn't bother going to the army, but by pushing off the exemption to age 26, we may see slightly higher enlistment rates.

Undoubtedly, once the bill passes its second and third reading in the Knesset plenum, the Supreme Court will be bombarded by petitions challenging the law's constitutionality. It is very likely that these petitions will be accepted by the court, since, without changes, the new law will perpetuate the gross deviation from the basic principles of equality; the initial reason that the Tal law was voided in 2012.

It is expected that public anger will grow, once it is understood how deceiving the product the political process came up with. This reaction will probably be a key feature in the political debate in the years to come, with a particular acceleration around the next elections, when much of the real picture will become clearer.

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