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Thursday, March 20, 2014

'The worst of both worlds'

A scathing critique of the new Haredi draft law from both sides:
The result is a widespread consensus against the law, with Haredim uniting with many advocates of a Haredi draft to argue that the law effectively offers the worst of both worlds.
Haredi yeshiva students are given full exemptions from military service for several years, then in 2017 will suddenly be told that the demands of their religious studies and lifestyle are criminal offenses.
The Times of Israel tried to obtain a response from MK Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid), the co-chair of the Shaked Committee who led the insistence on criminal sanctions, but Shelach’s staff declined repeated requests. A Yesh Atid party spokesperson also declined to comment.
“There’s no doubt this bill is ineffective in advancing equal service, which is the reason we went to the last elections,” noted Prof. Yedidia Stern, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute and a former dean of Bar-Ilan University’s Law Faculty.
Stern was a key expert adviser to the Shaked Committee which drafted the new law, and was a member of the Plesner Committee, which worked on a different version of the law in the last Knesset and whose work led to the last government’s fall and new elections.
The final draft law “is ineffective because it starts operating, de facto, only in 2017. But it immediately absolves a large group of some 50,000 Haredi men of service,” since, by replacing the previous Tal Law which the High Court of Justice called unconstitutional last year, it removes the obligation to continue their religious studies or face the draft.
“The Welfare Ministry says 20 percent of Haredi men drop out of yeshiva. If only they were to go to the army, we’d meet the [new law’s] quota. But that’s not why we started working on this.”
Even after several years of operation, “the law doesn’t achieve equality. At the same time, it insults the Haredi public profoundly, symbolically, because in 2017 it institutes criminal sanctions” for each man who avoids the draft – if the quotas are not met.
“In reality, these sanctions won’t be enforced, because the draft goals aren’t high. But the law now says that if Haredim don’t meet these goals, people will be taken from their Torah study and sent to prison for two years,” notes Stern.
“A wise state doesn’t institute a law it doesn’t intend to carry out. This law is a gun without bullets, a dead letter. The state can’t take thousands of people to prison for ideological reasons. There just isn’t such an animal. So the criminal sanctions are a strategic mistake. If we get to the point where Haredim decide to force the state to implement this law, the state won’t be able to.
Other groups, such as Arabs or settlers who may face similar situations, will learn that the state isn’t able to enforce its rule.”
And the law is already creating blowback, worries Stern. “My calculated guess is that Haredim won’t take advantage of their right [under the new law] to leave yeshiva to work because their rabbis know that the entire integrity of the Haredi world is being tested.”
Now that they don’t have to study Torah to avoid military service, everyone is watching to see if avoiding military service was the original reason they were studying Torah in such numbers, Stern explains. “Rabbis will do their best to keep students in their studies, to prove that Torah study is an authentic Haredi impulse. We’re already hearing that some rabbis, such as [the leaders of the] Vizhnitz [Hassidic sect], are telling their young men not even to register with the army,” as all Israeli 17-year-olds are required to do, even those who receive draft exemptions. “That’s a criminal violation already today – not just in 2017.”
Stern’s dire worries are shared by none other than MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), the chair of the eponymous committee that wrote the law.
It’s up to Haredi leaders to decide if the law will lead to integration or a culture war, she says.
“Now everything depends on leaders of the Haredi community,” she believes. If Haredi rabbis, as Stern fears, oppose the new system as a matter of principle, “I think that’s a disaster. If they don’t [oppose it], it can succeed.”
The Haredi world is willing to compromise, Rabinovich insisted.
“As soon as a [young man] isn’t learning Torah and isn’t in the yeshiva, there’s no question he’s like any other citizen. There’s no question here, and all the religious authorities, including Rabbi [Elazar] Shach, have said so,” Rabinovich said.
Rabinovich is careful to note that problem with a military draft remain even for those who leave the yeshiva. “The army needs to build frameworks for absorbing these people. I’m not going to tell any Haredi young man to go to the army unless I know that I can be sure he’ll be in an environment that won’t force him to abandon his way of life.”
The current tensions between the Haredi and mainstream communities, he said, were due to the fact that the secular public “simply doesn’t accept the value of Torah study as the essential value of the Jewish people. It’s hard to explain this to someone who doesn’t see it. It really is. It’s a question of faith and a way of life.”
The result of that culture gap is an unfair demand on Haredi men.
“Only 20 percent of draftees are warriors who face real danger,” noted Rabinovich. “But the parents of those warriors don’t complain about the 80% of soldiers who go to the army in the morning in Tel Aviv and then return home at night to sleep. We’re asking people to understand that yeshiva students are like the 80%. Studying in yeshiva is not easy.”
Read it all.

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At 4:31 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I noticed that in the article, even Shaked and Stern, both of whom were very involved in drafting the law, can't seem to agree on whether the 5,200 figure is per year, or in total. Does the law even clarify one way or the other?

As for that last paragraph you brought, truer words were never spoken. But Lapid and Bennett were never about sharing the burden and everything about forcing their hashkafos onto the Chareidi world.


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