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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Still, on this front, another practical hurdle remains: The Haredi education system places minimal emphasis on secular education, leaving many Haredi men unprepared to enter the workforce.

The new law addresses this concern, too, with funds to raise the education level of Haredim who are being exempted, in order to make them employable. Shelah said that hundreds of millions of shekels will be invested toward this goal.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of people who are incapable of obtaining gainful employment right now, so we have a national project of giving them the opportunity to get work,” he said. Shelah admitted that the cost will be high, but he said that “the alternative is to keep just spending on people who don’t work.”

While supporters of Haredi conscription may be cautious about the promised law’s prospects to deliver reform, Haredi political leaders are unambiguous, and apoplectic. During the government’s March 18 inauguration, Moshe Gafni, of the Haredi United Torah Judaism faction, shredded a copy of the coalition agreement on the Knesset floor, calling it a “white paper against the Haredi community.”

The term “white paper” crackles with emotion in Israel, as it evokes memory of the 1939 British document of that name setting strict limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine despite the need of Jews for a refuge from the Holocaust. Haredim were offended by their exclusion from the government coalition — the first such exclusion in almost two decades — and to the prominence given to the draft in the coalition agreement.

The provision’s survival in the governing coalition agreement reflected Yesh Atid’s decision to stand firm on its position through a long series of complex negotiations. The party was helped by a pact with the Orthodox-Zionist party Jewish Home, under which the two factions agreed to enter the coalition only as a pair, with a draft guarantee, and without Haredi parties.

“This is a national problem being solved — a problem of values and a problem of economics,” said Shelah.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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