Sunday, June 02, 2013

Equalizing the burden

The Peri Committee on equalizing the burden of national service to all segments of the population has agreed upon a compromise deal that would require the haredim (ultra-orthodox) to serve.  However, the conditions of service are not eactly equal to that of the hiloni (secular) requirements for service.  At age 18 all young men and women are required to serve, but until now up to 60,000 haredim have received legal exemptions because they are studying in yeshivot, religious schools that teach Torah study.  This number started out at 400, but over time the religious parties used their coalition power to protect their segment of the population. 
Under the new rules there will only be 1,800 exemptions allowed for outstanding students of Torah, the rest must serve.  But, they will be given an 3 extra years if individually approved up to the age of 21.  But, since many of them will be married by age 21 and will have children, then they will be exempt again.  At present ca. 30% of haredi men serve in the IDF voluntarily, but under the new rules it is estimated that 70% of them will serve.  Also, these rules will not be implemented for another 3 years. An improvement, but a quantitative one, hardly truly sharing the burden. 
A coalition crisis was averted by the intervention of PM Netanyahu, who persuaded Defense Minister Boogy Yaalon from voting against the measure in the Committee.  He wanted a much more rigorous enforcement of the new rules, that if a haredi man did not register for service (i.e. was a draft dodger) then he would be liable to legal proceedings and imprisonment, as the hilonim are. The main advocate for equalizing the burden was Finance Minister and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who made this a primary element in his party's program.  But, they were persuaded that making haredi draft dodging a legal crime would not work, it would only antagonize the whole haredi population.  Instead they preferred an economic toll for avoiding the draft, believing that loss of income and loss of tax benefits would be enough to persuade the haredim to serve.  This is what the Committee agreed, but the haredim are still opposed to this and it will face opposition when it comes to the full Knesset Committee.
Also, the Peri Committee avoided the question of the Arab sector of the population.  At present there are Arabs, particularly Druse and Beduin and some Christians and Muslims, who serve in the IDF.  But, apart from proposing that all Arab men be required to do some form of non-military national service, such as medical service, they did not propose anything specific.  It was felt that the problems with the haredim were enough to deal with for now. 
Note that some think that the IDF do not want to be flooded with unenthusiastic haredi and Arab recruits, that they have enough draftees already and with the budget cutting that is going on concurrently, this is no time to increase expenses by expanding the IDF.  Their emphasis is on quality and not quantity.  Also, note that Arabs in this context refer only to Israeli citizens, not Palestinians in the West Bank territories who are not Israeli citizens and who oppose Israel violently.   Whether the equalization of the burden will be achieved in the future is debatable, but at least the hiloni segment of the population will feel that the problem is being tackled and is not being left as unfair and unequal.


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