Today, hesder yeshiva students serve 16 months. The IDF demanded that the committee extend their service to 24 months at least, thereby attaining at least a certain sense that the principle of equality is being maintained. And what did the army get? On Monday, the committee decided to settle for just 17 months of service – only one month more than today. We are talking about outstanding soldiers, but IDF officials say there is no reason why they should not serve at least two years, while their friends collapse under the burden for three years.
If that were not enough, in the recent discussions it was revealed the hesder soldiers who go on to study in a yeshiva 16 months later receive family payments on a monthly basis from the IDF's coffers, which could reach several thousands of shekels if they got married and had children at an early age. For example, a yeshiva student from Ramat Gan can study in a yeshiva while his wife studies at a university, and the IDF will fund their monthly allowance.
And that's not all. The IDF was dealt another blow at the committee with the decision to cut men's service by four months without extending women's service. The army's stance was that the service should not be shortened in a sweeping manner, but only in the less vital units like administration soldiers in the home front bases, due to a manpower shortage in the fighting and technological corps.
The army also demanded significant financial compensation, such as minimum wage for that period for the fighting and technology units through a special budget which would come directly from the Treasury, but that was not achieved either. The committee decided to shorten men's service, but postponed the decision to extend women's service.
When the IDF launched the move, it agreed to cut service by four months out of an understanding that it would receive haredi soldiers to fill in and that the extension of women's service would help seal the hole created. In the meantime, it turns out that the IDF may be giving up on the soldiers' four months of service without getting haredi soldiers.
Girls paying the price
The price of inequality is being paid by the girls: The army seeks to extend women's service by four months from 24 to 28 months. The person behind this request is Major-General Orna Barbivai, head of the IDF's Personnel Directorate and the chief of staff's advisor on women's affairs, who will arrive at the committee on Tuesday and explain how important it is to extend the service for gender equality. But not all the army is convinced that this is the right decision at this time.
Estimates are that because women have such easy ways of dodging, extending the service will reduce the number of female recruits. Those who oppose the move note that in the past year it turned out that only 57% of the girls enlisted with the IDF, and therefore it is wrong to put all the burden on those girls who do choose to enlist and there is no room to "punish" them. "What is the message we are conveying to those girls? You also chose to serve and you're also being burdened with the injustice?" wondered military sources who are against the move.
The committee decided at this stage to postpone the vote on the issue to next week, and Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon clarified that shortening men's service would only be implemented if it includes extending women's service, which he supports.
The creative and self-evident solution is perhaps different: The Knesset should seal the legal breach allowing girls to evade service by declaring that they are religious through a letter from a rabbi stating that they observe Shabbat. But here too, like with the issue of hesder yeshiva students, there are strange political alliances which are thwarting the move.
The calm maintained on the haredi street during the days of the allegedly stormy Shaked Committee discussions is not deceiving. As opposed to the spins flying around in all directions, it is clear that the new outline will allow them to stay in the yeshivot and study, as the IDF does not need them at such a late age, and that is why they are not on the streets either.
In light of the farce, it is not too late for IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz to pick up the phone and ask the prime minister to stop this move and put things in order, because the people's army is falling apart in his hands.