Their prayers may have been answered.
The Kadima party agreed to join the prime minister’s coalition in May on the condition that a new universal conscription law would draft Hareidim and obligate Israeli Arabs to participate in national service programs.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu has been forced to walk a tightrope between the demands of the Kadima party and those of Shas and United Torah Judaism, who say they will not accept any personal or institutional sanctions, or any ceilings on the number of yeshiva students who will receive exemptions from service.
“I think Kadima’s exist is a blessing for the chareidim, because it returns power to them. The chareidim never leave a government, but they always use the threat of doing so,” said Knesset insider Jeremy Man Saltan.
A version of the law created by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon would allow Hareidi men to opt for either army or national service between the ages of 18 and 22, and would have sanctioned anyone who did not enter into either service by age 26. It would also draft a number of Israeli Arabs into national service.
Yaalon’s bill will be submitted on Sunday, according to a report by Israel’s Walla! News. The bill will be tabled despite the recommendation of the Plesner committee to draft all Israelis. Prime Minister Netanyahu dismantled the committee just prior to the release of its official recommendations, leading to the crisis with Kadima.
Yisrael Beytenu has rejected the bill as too soft. In the bill it will table on Wednesday, all eligible draftees who do not report for duty will be penalized , while those who cooperate will receive grants for higher education. In addition, draft exemptions would be awarded to 1,000 of the country’s most exceptional Torah scholars annually — the same as the number of top-level athletes and artists who enjoy exemptions today.
The “Suckers” movement of army reservists, who argue that it is unfair that they have been made the “suckers” who do years of army service while Hareidim pursue their own interests in Torah study, say they will pressure Yisrael Beytenu to leave the coalition of its bill does not pass on Wednesday.
For his part, Mofaz called the option of changing the draft age for Hareidi men to 26 a “red line which I could not cross,” saying that is what stood between him and a plan to make “historic compromises” with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He called the measure contrary to social justice and said Prime Minister Netanyahu “sided with the draft-dodgers over those who carry the national burden.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a letter to Mofaz, explaining that he was committed to instituting new draft measures for Hareidi society, but had wanted to do it “gradually and without tearing the Israeli society apart, especially during a period of time in which Israel finds itself in in front of many significant challenges.”
“I believe many Hareidim would be willing to the army, so to speak, on their terms. The army today has created a situation of a very, very secular army for almost no reason,” said Eisenman. He cited the example of forcing soldiers in a non-combat and non-training situation to sit and listen to female singing. “For many religious people, that is a red line,” Eisenman said.
Yet some plans to integrate Hareidim into the army have already met with success. The Netzach Yehuda – or Nachal Hareidi – battalion, has shown itself to be a serious unit operating in defense of Israel, having caught and killed several terrorists. Formulated to meet the needs of the Hareidi soldier while providing real service to the army, the unit obligates soldiers to wear a kippah and keep the laws of Shabbat. No women are on base or used as instructors, and time is made daily for soldiers to pray and attend Torah classes. “They have defended their nation, while strengthening themselves with Torah values and ethics,” touts the Nachal Hareidi website. “Carriers of the flag of Torah and Israel, they have carved out a name for themselves and created a new sense of unity among the nation.”
Yet this progress – and that offered up in the conciliatory plan which would have been presented to Hareidi leadership by the prime minister – were not enough for a segment of society already indignant about the burden of army service they feel they shoulder alone. Mofaz replied in his own letter to the Prime Minister that “through narrow political considerations you chose a covenant with the ultra-Orthodox instead of with the Zionist majority.”