Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the recommendations of the Plesner Committee, and a set of guidelines he presented to the cabinet Sunday made it clear that he has chosen to side with his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
While the Plesner Committee called for everyone – except 1,500 exceptional yeshiva students – to be drafted, Netanyahu set a much lower draft target for haredim – 6,000 from that sector per year by 2016. The prime minister's guidelines drop the maximum age for a draft exemption from 28 to 26, as opposed to 22, as the Plesner Committee recommended.
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"Later, we'll assess the situation and think about how to proceed," Netanyahu promised.
In addition to the 6,000 haredi conscripts per year by 2016 that the new guidelines – written by Minister Moshe Yaalon – call for, the new plan seeks to have 5,000 Israeli Arabs a year sign up for national service by 2016, in addition to the few hundred volunteering to serve in the IDF.
Haredim protest compulsory IDF service (Photo: AP)
The revised guidelines also call for every male aged 16.5 to present himself to the draft board, without any mention of service for women. They call upon the Defense Ministry to develop types of service appropriate for the needs of haredi recruits, including 45 hours of obligatory Torah study a week.
Earlier Saturday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked that the matter be given to his ministry to solve following the failed negotiations with Kadima that, he said, contributed to the collapse of the coalition agreement.
Barak wants his ministry to come up with a solution (Photo: Aviyahu Shapira)
Netanyahu wants to re-assess the situation four years from now, and only then would any decision be taken regarding sanctions against yeshiva budgets or personal sanctions for haredim who don't enlist. However, the prime minister's guidelines mention that "economic sanctions" will be levied.
Under the new proposal, draft dodgers would face the punishment specified by law, including "negative monetary incentives," a term not specified. In addition, support for yeshivas would be changed in a way that would "incentivize meaningful service," with lower budgets for yeshiva students who do not serve. Yeshivas that fail to meet their draft quota will supposedly face a blow to their budgets.
Netanyahu: Buying time so as not to lose the haredim (Photo: AFP)
Addressing the issue of service for Israeli Arabs, Netanyahu proposed cutting financial grants to local authorities that do not meet their national service quotas, whereas authorities with a relatively large number of locals performing national service will see their budgets increased.
Activists for an equal distribution of the burden responded harshly to the prime minister's proposals, saying, "It's embarrassing the see a former IDF chief of staff sell those who serve for an unexplained deal with the haredi parties."
"Ya'alon's proposal, which is even worse than the Tal Law – and he knows it – won't pass. Not in public opinion, not in the political arena, and not legally. We think that Defense Minister Ehud Barak should issue detailed instructions that will be ratified by the High Court of Justice and that starting August 1, all 18-year-olds be drafted for military or national service."
Director-General of Hiddush – for Religious Freedom and Equality, attorney Rabbi Uri Regev, said that "the Netanyahu government decided to give preference to its anti-Zionist haredi partners. It is determined to miss the historic opportunity to distribute the burden (of service) equally and create a disaster for the national economy and national security."
"The Ya'alon guidelines aren't anything more than the Tal Law II – that is to say, a plan that allows draft-dodging and discrimination to continue. The main purpose isn't to implement the basic principle of equal service for all, which the High Court of Justice has ruled on and which the public supports. History won't forget the coalition members' betrayal of the public on this issue. We can only hope that the voters won't, either," Regev concluded.
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