130 senior economists warn that lack of Haredi enlistment leading country to ‘abyss’

Group alerts lawmakers that the exemption from conscription alongside the funding of religious educational institutions threatens Israel’s existence

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox men protest against the IDF draft in Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men protest against the IDF draft in Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A group of 130 senior economists on Tuesday warned lawmakers that increasing the burden of military reserve duty on the working population, while continuing to exempt the ultra-Orthodox from conscription endangers the very existence of the country.

In a harshly worded letter signed by the senior economists, the group said that the government’s policies of imposing an unfairly heavy economic and military burden on one part of the citizenry and of allocating funds to educational institutions that do not teach core studies are leading the country to an “abyss endangering its existence.”

This is “unsustainable, that a growing part of the population has a waiver from carrying the burden, especially in the difficult and complex security reality that Israel is facing,” the group emphasized.

On Monday, the cabinet rejected an appeal by MK Chili Tropper against advancing a bill that would lower the age of exemption from military service for yeshiva students — paving the way for the Knesset to revive the 2022 legislation.

In 2017, the High Court of Justice invalidated the legal exemption as discriminatory and ordered the government to pass a new conscription law. The government has since been unable to agree on legislation, repeatedly extending the non-conscription policy, while Haredi politicians have sought to pass legislation cementing the exemptions.

“Without a change of current policies, many of those who bear the heavy economic and security burden will prefer to emigrate from Israel, and the most educated and skilled, will be the first to leave,” the group remarked. “The population that will remain in Israel will be less educated and less productive.”

“This will have a spiraling effect of emigration,” the letter continued. “To avert the danger of national collapse, the state’s leaders must face the present reality and adopt without delay a strategy that will return Israel to a sustainable path.”

Among the signatories of the letter are senior academics, including Prof. Omer Moav, a former adviser to the finance minister; Prof. Avi Ben Bassat, a former director of the Finance Ministry; Prof. Udi Nisan, former budget head at the Finance Ministry; and Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, who held a string of key government positions.

Also signing the letter are a group of senior economists, including Prof. Leo Leiderman; Dr. Michael Sarel; and Prof. Momi Dahan, as well as former senior Bank of Israel officials.

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