Will the New Netanyahu Government Agenda Hurt The Chareidim?

YERUSHALAYIM -

Below are some of the major points included in the coalition agreement signed by the parties that will comprise Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government — Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and Movement — as it relates to the chareidi community. Although some are related to the central issue of drafting yeshivah students into the army, many of the changes proposed are unrelated to the draft issue.

The Draft: A ministerial committee is to be established, headed by a Yesh Atid minister, for the purpose of formulating a military draft law to provide for “sharing the burden,” to be submitted within 45 days of the installation of the new government.

The agreement calls for a graduated but rapid increase in the number of yeshivah students entering the IDF, while setting a limit on the number of those granted an exemption to pursue full-time Torah studies.

The recruitment targets for chareidim 18-21 for both IDF and civilian service start at 3,300 in 2013 and rise to 5,600 by 2016.

By 2017, when the full law is to be implemented, a ceiling of 1,800 complete exemptions for yeshivah students will be established.

Anyone wishing to defer national service for religious studies may do so until age 21, when they will have to perform either military or civilian service, with the Defense Ministry and IDF given first choice on who will be drafted into the army.

Civilian service includes the police, ambulance, or fire and rescue services, as well as the IDF Home Front Command and the voluntary emergency response service ZAKA.

Those who refuse to comply will be hit with stiff economic sanctions. Yeshivos with high percentages of students who refuse to serve will also face financial reprisals, probably in the form of funding cuts.

The plan outlined in the coalition agreements also calls for increasing Arab enlistment in civilian service, on a volunteer basis, to 6,000 a year.

The document adds that the plan will be implemented among Arab citizens with “understanding of the obstructions and the complications that the Arab society copes with.” No understanding of chareidi society was expressed in the agreement.

The Core Curriculum. Most chareidi schools in the Chinuch Atzmai and Shas system have until now successfully resisted the attempts of the Education Ministry, at the behest of the High Court and secular politicians, to interfere in their curriculum. Yesh Atid MK Shai Piron, the incoming education minister, will preside over a committee charged with producing a program for an extensive secular curriculum within the context of nationwide testing, to be implemented over the following two years.

Health Insurance. The coalition partners have committed to reforming National Health Insurance coverage so as to significantly reduce protection for avreichim and their families. Within 60 days, a change in the national insurance law will limit the payment of 121 shekels per month for a yeshivah student to seven years. After that, the amount will be adjusted according to the legal minimum wage.

Students From Abroad. As per the Trachtenberg Committee recommendations, state funding for students who are neither citizens nor permanent residents studying in Israeli yeshivos will be cancelled. There are close to 20,000 students in the yeshivah systems who are foreign citizens, amounting to a strong cut in yeshivah budgets.

Means Test: State benefits — such as subsidized day care for children, mortgage terms, assistance for taking a mortgage, reductions in arnona tax and much more — will be subject to a measure of earnings potential, being employed or proving that one is actively seeking employment. This clause is a favorite tool of many government clerks to lock all kollel avreichim out of financial assistance or tax discounts.

In the previous government, these efforts were rebuffed time and again by the ministers, but a Treasury committee headed by Yair Lapid will now work to apply this criterion to as many government programs as possible.

It will also make it harder for avreichim who learn in kollel to find affordable housing (already extremely difficult). Jewish Home MK and incoming housing minister Uri Ariel has been tasked with creating specific criteria for mortgages and other housing programs.

All of these proposals will be subject to review by Knesset committees and must be voted on in the plenum, where Shas and United Torah Judaism will fight them, allied on some issues with the Labor party. However, it is facing an uphill battle as the coalition agreement forces close to 70 MKs to vote for the program.