Ahead of the drafting of a universal draft bill by a Knesset committee, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday said the mandatory enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Israelis into the armed forces must be encouraged, not coerced.
“I support the position that enabling Haredi youths to serve is important, but not by way of incitement, not by delegitimization, and not by force,” Ya’alon said at a ceremony in honor of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the IDF’s Haredi Netzah Yehuda battalion.
“To enable and not to coerce, this is the correct way that has proven itself [effective]. This is the correct way that will bring increased integration, integration that is important to the ultra-Orthodox sector, to Israeli society, and to the state.”
Ya’alon comments came as the Knesset committee responsible for drafting a universal law, headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), is set to present a new bill by the end of January.
In his address, Ya’alon praised the performance and dedication of the Netzach Yehuda troops in thwarting attacks in the West Bank.
The Netzah Yehuda battalion, colloquially referred to as Nahal Haredi, was established in 1999 to accommodate the lifestyle of ultra-Orthodox soldiers. Since its inception, the unit has grown substantially — from 89 recruits in its first year to more than eight hundred in 2013.
Ultra-Orthodox Israeli men were mostly exempt from army or national service until July 2012, when the Tal Law under which these exemptions were granted, was declared unconstitutional. The dissolution of the law has forced parliamentarians to draw up new legislation that would conscript Haredi and Israeli-Arab men into the military.
Since the Tal Law expired, enlistment rates among the ultra-Orthodox have risen. According to a report published by the army in August, Haredi recruits exhibited high levels of satisfaction and diligence.