A senior IDF officer on Monday compared the abuses suffered by ultra-Orthodox soldiers at the hands of their communities to Nazi propaganda against Jews during the Holocaust.
Speaking at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee hearing on IDF personnel issues, Brig.-Gen. Gadi Agmon said the anti-draft campaign in the Haredi press and in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods was reminiscent of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda vehicle ‘Der Stürmer.’
Agmon, who heads the IDF’s personnel planning division, said attacks on ultra-Orthodox soldiers “are a growing phenomena,” calling it “an unprecedented, planned attack.”
Agmon told the committee members that soldiers suffered from being beaten, spat on, excluded from prayer gatherings, having their children expelled from schools, being the subject of hateful graffiti, and having their car tires slashed. He said that the IDF had established a call center where people could report such attacks and had already received more than 89 complaints from Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modiin Ilit, and other ultra-Orthodox towns.
“The worst thing, from our perspective, is that they are hurting IDF soldiers. This is a crossing of red lines for us,” said Agmon.
The police representative to the hearing said that though they were aware of many incidents of attacks on soldiers, so far the police had only received a single complaint, which in turn led to the opening of three new police files against suspects. She said that the police had approached the attorney general’s office in an effort to receive authorization to take firm action against perpetrators of such attacks.
“We need to strike back at anyone who abuses soldiers… If we can’t treat this phenomenon, we will not be able to draft more ultra-Orthodox soldiers,” said Hatnua MK Elazar Stern, a former head of the IDF Manpower Directorate and himself religious.
Elhanan Froman, an ultra-Orthodox IDF veteran, told the committee members that complaining to the police would only result in more abuse. He said that, in the current atmosphere, he wouldn’t enlist, and urged the state to punish educational institutions that ban IDF veterans from attending.
Subcommittee chairman Omer Bar Lev (Labor) said that a comprehensive plan needed to be formulated to battle the emerging trend, and that the government had to offer all available support to the soldiers. “I am pessimistic about this trend halting though,” concluded Bar Lev.
Following a High Court ruling last year that determined that the blanket exemption ultra-Orthodox men received from conscription into military or national service was unconstitutional, Israeli lawmakers have been hard at work coming up with new legislation that would see the majority of young Haredi men enlist, while granting exemptions to 1,800 top Torah scholars per year.
The proposal, which was met by harsh resistance from the ultra-Orthodox public, stipulates sanctions for failing to meet quotas. If the ultra-Orthodox community fails to reach the numbers set forth in the law, the vast majority of yeshiva students — excluding the 1,800 exempt — will be treated as draft dodgers and face criminal sanctions.
Whoever is defense minister will have the power to enforce the use of such sanctions, the committee decided.