Stop funding Haredim, reward soldiers instead
Op-ed: Instead of serving as a yeshiva conscription army, the IDF should exempt all Haredim. A young Haredi will be like any other young Israeli exempted from military service. He won’t be funded by the state and will be able to do as he pleases: If he wants to study—let him study; if he wants to work—let him work; and if he wants to join the army—let him join the army.
The Israeli Defense Service Law defines “a person designated for defense service" as “an Israel national or a permanent resident from the age of 16.5.” According to the letter of the law, all Israeli Arab citizens, as well as the 340,000 Palestinian permanent residents of east Jerusalem, are required to enlist. All religious girls are required to enlist. All Druze girls are required to enlist.
The vast majority of them don’t enlist, of course. Despite the IDF’s efforts, many girls avoid conscription under different excuses and shams, while the state turns a blind eye. Not to mention the different draft dodgers.
For some reasons, the “Lapids” haven’t issued a demand to draft all these people for the sake of an equal share of the burden, and the High Court of Justice hasn’t demanded their enlistment to help carry the security burden. The false slogan of “an equal share of the burden” is pulled out only when it comes to Haredim.
Less than half of 18-year-olds enlist today, and the number decreases every year. In fact, there is no difference between Haredim, Arabs and religious girls. These are all members of the public with unique characteristics who don’t enlist for national, religious and cultural reasons. But while the Jewish public, mainly from the left-wing and centrist camp, feels for the Arabs and justifies the failure to draft them, when it comes to the Haredim everyone cries out. How hypocritical.
Despite all the efforts, most Haredim haven’t enlisted and won’t serve in the future either. All the decisions and laws from the past and those that are yet to come won’t change a thing, just like an attempt at forcing Arabs to enlist would have failed miserably. Moreover, most IDF generals are against drafting all the Haredim and believe it will do more harm than good.
The IDF serves as a yeshiva conscription army. A young Haredi man reporting to the recruitment center has two options: To enlist in the IDF or in a yeshiva. Clearly, the vast majority pick the yeshiva, they are forbidden to work and are funded by the state. How foolish is that?
There is a simple solution: To exempt Haredim, as well as Arabs and religious girls. A young Haredi will be like any other young Israeli who is exempted from military service. He won’t be funded by the state and will be able to do as he pleases: If he wants to study—let him study; if he wants to work—let him work; and if he wants to join the army—let him join the army, like quite a few Bedouins and Christians who do so even though they don’t have to. I’m convinced that, as a result, the number of Haredim enlisting out of their own free will exceed the number of Haredim who enlist today.
With the money saved from funding yeshiva students, about NIS 2 billion a year, the state will pay the salaries of IDF soldiers in the third year of their service. Their salary will be compared to the average wage in Israel—about NIS 9,800 today. As a result, every soldier who completes full service will begin his civil life with an extra NIS 120,000, in addition to all the benefits granted to ex-servicemen, giving them a much more promising starting point in life than today. That’s the proper way to respect and reward soldiers who gave three years of their life for the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.
At the same time, the exemption from military service will make the Haredim in Israel more similar to Hasidic Jews in the United States, where most high school yeshiva graduates go out to work and only a small minority study in a high yeshiva.
This will solve a conflict as old as the state, which has been aggravated in the past decade as a result of the huge growth in the number of yeshiva students exempted from military service. This dispute is dividing the Israeli society, sparking hatred and incitement and seriously harming the state’s economy.
Unfortunately, my proposal has no chance of being accepted, as the current situation is convenient and beneficial for both sides. The Haredi rabbis and politicians are enjoying the regular flow of funds, and the young Haredim depend on their public leaders, and mainly on yeshiva heads who basically determine who will be exempted from military service. The “Lapids,” on the other hand, will be able to keep making empty promises, as if they’re really capable of drafting the Haredim, and scoring political gains.
The small and divisive politics are defeating logic, and public activists are defeating common sense. Let’s just hope this doesn’t last forever.
Haim Ramon served as a Knesset member and minister from 1983 to 2009 on behalf of the Labor Party and Kadima.