Up-and-coming politician Yair Lapid slammed the government’s decision to substitute national service for military service for some 1,300 members of the ultra-Orthodox community Sunday, saying he was prepared to file a High Court petition to halt the move.
Lapid, a career journalist who is making his first run for Knesset, has made universal conscription a centerpiece of his campaign, harnessing popular anger as the country struggles to find a way to include communities that have traditionally shied away from service, such as the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs.
“The government’s decision today regarding not recruiting 1,300 Haredi men, circumventing the Supreme Court’s decision, is a national scandal,” Lapid said at the convention of his party, Yesh Atid. “We’ll make sure this will be the last time the rule of law in Israel is bent by extortion.”
Lapid also called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to block the decision. “Mr. Minister, you have the option to go out on a high note by sending a draft notice to all these young people, and ensure that every young man of 18 bears the burden,” he added.
At the end of July, the Tal Law, which provided exemption from military or national service to members of the religious sector for 10 years, expired. Several unsuccessful attempts within the Knesset to draft a substitute failed, but ultra-Orthodox youth have yet to be drafted en masse.
A Government Press Office statement noted that over 2,000 ultra-Orthodox men currently serve in the civil service corps; of the men who have served to date, some 85% were successfully integrated into the Israeli work force.
In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tal Law was unconstitutional. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Knesset would draft a revised, more equitable, law within months.
In July, Netanyahu disbanded a committee headed by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner after some right-wing legislators resigned from that panel, citing its failure to institute a universal draft for Arab citizens as well as for the ultra-Orthodox.
After Plesner publicized his committee’s recommendations, the prime minister teamed him up with Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon to work out a bill that would incorporate all of the committee’s principles, while also taking into account the objections of those who had left the committee. That attempt also failed to produce results, prompting Kadima to bolt the coalition it had joined just three months earlier.
So far, it has been the National Service Administration, which administers the national service corps, that has taken the biggest hit from the Tal Law’s expiration. While it was in effect, some members of the ultra-Orthodox community volunteered for nonmilitary national service. But according to Sar-Shalom Jerby, the head of the administration, now that military exemptions are no longer valid, the few ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews who wish to volunteer are turned away, as they must go through the military recruiting channels.
Jerby said that, in recent months, many of the organizations in which the ultra-Orthodox volunteers had been serving reported serious manpower shortages when volunteers completed their stints and were not replaced by new recruits.
An additional concern expressed by Jerby was the damage to the existing relationship between the ultra-Orthodox community and the National Service Administration. Until now, with national service a viable option for those who did not wish to serve in the military, Jerby said that a certain trust existed between the potential volunteers and the administration. Now, with the administration having to turn away religious men who wish to volunteer for national service, that trust is in jeopardy.
Sunday’s proposal enables the National Service Administration to enlist 500 volunteers immediately, with an additional 800 to be recruited between now and the end of August.
A number of other politicians also spoke out against the proposal.