On Sunday afternoon, the Israeli government approved the “Equal Burden” legislation forged in a committee headed by Science Minister Yaakov Perry. Now the bill will be prepared for its first reading in the Knesset. Fourteen ministers supported the proposed bill, four abstained, and none objected. The abstentions came from Israel Beiteinu ministers Yair Shamir, Sofa Landver and Yitzhak Aharonovitz, and Jewish Home minister Uri Ariel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the bill early in the weekly cabinet meeting, saying: “We’ll make the change gradually, taking into account the special needs of the Haredi community.” According to Netanyahu, “our goal is twofold – integrating young Haredim in the IDF and National Service, as well as their integration in the labor market.”
According to the new bill, beginning in 2017, every young Jew over the age of 18 will be obligated to join the army. Until then, there will be an “interim period,” during which the number of Haredim serving would be compared with the numeric objectives set by the Ministry of Defense.
Non-compliance with recruitment goals will result in economic sanctions against the Haredi yeshivas where violators are enrolled. Beginning in 2017, the same legal sanctions that are currently used against secular youths who fail to enlist will be used against Haredim.
The prime minister thanked the members of the committee and Minister Perry for putting together the bill, saying that he also “views as very important the integration of Israeli Arabs. The outline is not yet complete, but we must address this issue.”
Science Minister Yaakov Perry said, “For 65 years Israel has remained undecided over this sensitive issue, a serious social issue that I very much hope, once the bill is approved, we’ll witness the yeshiva students’ enlisting and volunteering for national service.”
Perry said he hopes to “build an equal, just and more real society.”
Minister Amir Peretz said that “all along I claimed that the question of the Hesder yeshivas (National Religious yeshivas whose students for years have been combining combat service with study) is problematic. In a few years there is no doubt that the situation would be similar to what’s happening now. On the one hand, everyone wants to institute national service, but it is something that must be funded, it requires a deep discussion. At the moment, everybody is making big pronouncements, but ignoring the inevitable, accompanying problems.”
According to the proposed bill’s outline, recruiting targets for Haredim will be raised gradually, so that as of 2016 at least 5,200 Haredim a year will enlist—65% of the eligible Haredi youths. Unlike secular recruits, Haredi youths will show up at the induction center at age 18, but will be able to remain in their yeshivas until the age of 21, and only then will have to enlist. Starting in 2017, there will be a set list of only 1,800 students defined as “prodigies,” who will receive exemption from service. Deans of yeshivas who lie about the number of students in their care will face criminal charges, as would Haredi youths who will not enlist.
In addition, the proposed bill will also introduce considerable changes regarding non-Haredim. Hesder Yeshiva service will be extended by one month – from 16 to 17 months, as opposed to the committee’s original proposal to extend their service to 24 months—which would have still made their service only two years, instead of the three-year service of the rest of the IDF soldiers.
Also, service for men will be shortened to 32 months—from 36—come 2017, and the women’s service will be extended to 28 months, from 24.