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Haredi soldiers show high motivation, army reports

MKs responsible for universal draft law attending largest single enlistment of Haredi soldiers yet

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Ministers Yaakov Peri and Limor Livnat visiting Haredi soldiers on their Tel Nof air base in April. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ministers Yaakov Peri and Limor Livnat visiting Haredi soldiers on their Tel Nof air base in April. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

While work in the Knesset continues on a universal draft bill that would bring the ultra-Orthodox into the military or national service, the army reported on Wednesday that Haredi soldiers that have already joined up show high levels of motivation and satisfaction in their military service.

Fully 85 percent of soldiers in Shachar, an IDF program that offers service tracks for young men from the ultra-Orthodox community, report they are “very proud” of their service, according to a survey conducted by the IDF’s Manpower Directorate published this week.

The program was started in 2007 to draft members of the Haredi community into the technical corps of the Air Force, and later expanded to other parts of the military. Officials touted the program as a boost to helping Haredi men, many of whom would otherwise choose full-time Torah study, integrate into the civilian workforce.

Seventy-six percent said their jobs in the IDF would help them advance professionally in the future, 79% said they were “satisfied” with the military unit in which they served, 75% said they feel their work is necessary and 37% said they were interested in becoming officers.

The results of the survey were publicized by Army Radio on Wednesday. The IDF did not publish the detailed numbers or methodology of the survey.

Haredi men have been mostly exempt from military service in the past, though a rule allowing yeshiva students to claim exemptions was declared unconstitutional last year, forcing lawmakers to legislate a system to draft the ultra-Orthodox– and eventually Israeli Arabs as well — into a military or national civilian service framework.

Tension in the Haredi community has skyrocketed in recent weeks over the possibility that its young men will be forced to join military or national service.

Young Haredi men, especially those already serving in the IDF soldiers, have faced a wave of anti-military sentiment that has included senior rabbis from the Haredi sector attacking political leaders who are advancing the universal service legislation, and at least three physical attacks on Haredi soldiers in July in Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

A poster in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, depicting Haredi soldiers rolling through the streets atop tanks trying to lure young boys onto their vehicles. The ad denounces the soldiers as Zionist "ambassadors" and "missionaries." Sunday, July 14, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
A poster in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, depicting Haredi soldiers rolling through the streets atop tanks trying to lure young boys onto their vehicles. The ad denounces the soldiers as Zionist “ambassadors” and “missionaries.” Sunday, July 14, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

MKs from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the ad hoc committee working on the universal service legislation chaired by MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) are slated to visit the IDF’s Tel Hashomer enlistment base on Thursday to meet the next 400 Haredi conscripts on their first day in the IDF.

Thursday’s draft marks the largest single wave of Haredi enlistment yet, according to the IDF. Most of the soldiers are slated for the Netzach Yehuda infantry battalion, formerly known as Nahal Haredi.

An unnamed “senior IDF source” told Army Radio Wednesday that “despite recent events and the attempts to harm Haredi soldiers, the trend of increasing Haredi enlistment has only strengthened.”

Last year, a High Court of Justice ruling declared a long-standing exemption from conscription for Haredi men, the “Tal Law,” to be unconstitutional. The parties who make up the current government have vowed to fulfill their election promise to enact a more “equitable” universal national service.

An early draft of the government’s universal draft legislation passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last month. The ad hoc committee chaired by MK Shaked will meet every Thursday during the Knesset’s current recess, which began Wednesday and will continue until October, to prepare the bill for passage during the Knesset’s winter session.

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