The High Court of Justice's decision not to cancel the Tal Law enabling yeshiva students to defer military service sparked harsh responses in the IDF. Although senior officers were cautious not to publicly criticize the ruling, even IDF Chief of Staff Major-General Dan Halutz was unable to hold back his disapproval.
"There is no reason why my children should serve, but others won't serve at all," Halutz said during a conference of the Office of Trade and Industry in Be'er Sheva.
Another senior army official told Ynet: “It is clear that we won’t see tomorrow a company of Orthodox soldiers with a Givati or Golani brigade beret, but we want to establish a feeling of equality, even if they treat the elderly in an old people’s home.”
“We want to say to whoever does army service, that others are also doing their service and contributing, even if it on the sidelines. The least they can do is contribute something to the country,” he explained.
A committee headed by General (res.) David Ivri examined the matter of national service for religious youth and recommended expanding the program. An administration was supposed to be established to take care of carrying out the committee’s recommendations, but since then former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hospitalized and the plan was stalled.
“Right now it’s not moving,” Ivri admitted in a conversation with Ynet Thursday. “We needed to recruit about 200 ultra-Orthodox to national service this year.”
Ivri explained that ultra-Orthodox who cannot serve in the IDF may be interested in committing to one year of national service, which would give them special privileges in society and the ability to continue afterwards into the job market. However, the committee’s recommendations still exist on paper only.
Former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz understood a few months ago that some ultra-Orthodox needed to be recruited to army service in order to create a feeling of equality.
Ynet learned that Mofaz even prepared a special plan for the recruitment of religious youth, by which they would be drafted for 16 months of service on various tracks, including combat units and haredi Nahal. In the end, however, this plan also fell by the wayside.
IDF Personnel Directorate Chief Major-General Elazar Stern addressed the issue recently. In closed conversations, Stern expressed multiple times the opinion that haredi youth should be drafted to the army in various capacities.
“If Hesder yeshiva students can serve for one-and-a-half years in combat units, why can’t the ultra-Orthodox?” Stern asked.
'Time to recognize facts'
Senior IDF sources admitted there is a cause for concern.
"Beyond the wish that everyone take part in the burden, we must remember that there are missions that are around the corner. Soon soldiers in debt will have their services cut, the number of soldiers is shrinking, and the missions of the army are only growing," an officer involved in the mission said.
"I am not addressing the High Court decision, but the general issue. If there won't be a change, we will have a problem," he added.
According to estimations of the IDF Personnel Directorate, the percentage of ultra-Orthodox youths who are not drafted to the IDF is not expected to surpass 10 percent by 2009, but in 2010 the service length is expected to lessen to just two years, according to the Ben-Bassat Committee. The security situation is shrouded in fog, so it is clear the IDF will need all those who are eligible to be drafted.
Members of the rank of the reserves are also not thrilled with the High Court decision.
"For years the concept of the people's army has turned into a fiction," a member of an organization working for reserve soldiers said.
"We see the releases obtained by the ultra-Orthodox – they have shirked their work – and continue to see the intolerable ease with which the IDF releases all kinds of candidates for service for different reasons," the source added.
"Most of the celebrities don't generally serve. In the end, when you look at the reserves, you see that surprisingly, only a small percentage of the potential (number of people) actually do it. It's time to reexamine the term 'people's army' and recognize facts," the source concluded.