Israel Vows To Draft Haredim, But Major Hurdles Remain

Fine Print and Timing Complicates Situation

Devil in the Details: Discontent over the Haredi exemption from military service contributed to Yair Lapid’s strong showing in the Israeli election. Still, any major changes could be years away.
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Devil in the Details: Discontent over the Haredi exemption from military service contributed to Yair Lapid’s strong showing in the Israeli election. Still, any major changes could be years away.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published March 24, 2013, issue of March 29, 2013.
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During Israel’s election campaign last January, the new Yesh Atid party’s single most popular stand was its vow to end the exemption that Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, receive from mandatory military service, which is obligatory for other Israeli Jews. Now, to the surprise of many cynics, that promise is about to be fulfilled.

In politics, however, even kept promises are often kept imperfectly. And that has some of the move’s original supporters fretting.

According to the March 15 coalition agreement signed by the four parties that will govern Israel, within just 45 days of taking office, Israel’s new government will present legislation to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the army.

But Idan Miller, chair of Common Ground, a lobby group for universal service, remains concerned by the fact that the coalition agreement envisions a four-year gap before Haredi conscription officially begins. “Four years from now there is a good likelihood there will be another government that will cancel the whole thing,” he said. Similarly, Micky Gitzin, executive director of the pressure group Be Free Israel, said that a “big question” hangs over whether the law that is passed will really be enacted.

Miller hastened to acknowledge that the agreement on conscription is “definitely a big step.” It was the issue, in fact, that is widely credited with having propelled Yesh Atid to its surprise second-place finish in the election, winning 19 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. “If 19 seats in Knesset [cannot] start the process, we’re doomed,” a hopeful but wary Miller said.

It is a kind of tug of war between bright expectation and battle-weary cynicism that characterizes many of the move’s supporters as the new government launches itself.


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