President Shimon Peres declared his opposition Monday to the levying of criminal sanctions on Haredi draft dodgers as part of a new bill being advanced by the government.
“The need for dialogue is essential in my opinion,” Peres said at a meeting with students at Bar-Ilan University. “I would not include this issue in criminal affairs.”
“I think what was decided upon in the Knesset is a principle which must now be translated into practicality,” the president said.
Asked by Bar-Ilan’s Student Union chair to address the proposed legislation by the Shaked Committee that aims to increase Haredi participation in the IDF, Peres argued that everyone should serve, but “not everyone should serve in the army. It is possible to serve elsewhere.”
The landmark provision, drafted by the Shaked Committee on February 19, mandates army service for 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox Israeli men. The provision imposes criminal penalties on non-compliant yeshiva students. According to the terms of a working draft, such penalties would go into effect in 2017.
Under the bill, Haredi men between the ages of 18 and 24 would be able to claim draft exemptions from national service, one year at a time. Draft quotas would be determined by the number of eligible ultra-Orthodox men under the age of 24.
Under the approved proposal, a three-year transition period will begin once the Knesset approves the bill. During those three years, a target will be set for the number of ultra-Orthodox enlistees each year. The target number will rise each year until 2017, when it will reach 5,200 new Haredi enlistees.
If the ultra-Orthodox community meets the 2017 quota, then it will be required to continue to meet quotas every year. If, however, it fails to meet the target in 2017 or any subsequent year, all ultra-Orthodox men will be drafted like other Jewish and Druze men when they reach the age of 18.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid praised a Knesset committee’s approval of the bill last Thursday, saying it was a resurgence of Zionism that fixed a major flaw in Israeli society.
If passed into law by the Knesset plenum, “a legal and historic aberration that has continued for 65 years [would be] fixed because we were determined and stood our ground,” Lapid said. “This wound in the heart of Israeli society is finally starting its recovery process.”
Lapid attempted to assuage ultra-Orthodox concerns that the move would undermine the integrity of religious society, saying universal draft “is not an attempt to plot against your way of life. Nobody wants to harm you or your way of life.”