Setting the Record Straight

In a recent issue of the Jewish Press, Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman addressed the issue of his party’s proposed IDF chareidi draft. A. Pe’er is a veteran military correspondent who has been writing for Hamodia for decades. Below, he responds to some of MK Lipman’s claims, in an effort to elucidate the truth for our readers.

1. Lipman writes, “For the sake of clarity, I am now going to reveal the truth about the Israel draft law that is on the verge of passing. What I am writing is fact. Readers may be very surprised to learn these facts because the Yesh Atid-sponsored draft law is very different from what you have been reading in the haredi press and hearing from haredi politicians and activists.”

MK Lipman is misrepresenting the facts. The draft law that Yesh Atid wants is very simple: all bnei Torah in Israel from age 18 should be drafted starting tomorrow morning. That’s what the party’s leaders declared all through their election campaign.  MK Lipman served as the proverbial fig leaf; because of him they could say, “We represent everyone; we even have a chareidi among us.”

2. Lipman writes, “The law says nothing about haredim going to jail. It says the army has specific goals for how many haredim will serve. As long as those goals are met, there is no mandatory draft of anyone who is in yeshiva. The law actually begins by doing the opposite of drafting yeshiva boys; it says that anyone who is over 22 when the law is passed will be completely exempt from any service. This frees them to enter the work force or continue learning…”

The proposed (not yet passed) law of Lipman’s Knesset faction is clear and unequivocal: Anyone besides 1,800 “masmidim” (more about those later), who does not enlist for military or civil service will be treated as a criminal. and punished  with a prison term.

Some MKs  are suggesting a compromise – “financial sanctions” (suspension of all assistance to the Torah scholar and his yeshivah and fines for the yeshivah and the scholar so he and his family should suffer) instead of “criminal sanctions” (throwing him into prison). At this time there is a majority in the committee in favor of criminal sanctions. Which one the Knesset will decide to include in the final version of the law, economic or criminal sanctions, is yet unknown,  but either would be a severe blow to lomdei Torah and the Torah world.

Lipman also writes that the law speaks about a specific number of chareidim that need to serve, and as soon as that number is reached, the mandatory draft is over. Moreover, he writes, draftees will be released at age 22 in order bring them into the labor market.

The whole quote is made up of things that Yesh Atid is trying to push through. As of now, the Shaked Committee has not yet reached any final decisions, and therefore there are no grounds to what he says.

The truth is, as things appear to be moving in the special Knesset committee preparing the law for approval vote, the following is expected to happen in the next few weeks:

Most of the committee members want, in their own words, to bring “equal sharing of the burden”; in other words a mandatory draft that would equally apply to all the young men in Israel. But it is clear to them that they cannot pass a law that will draft everyone tomorrow morning. So the committee is discussing an interim agreement: in the next six years the draft of yeshivah bachurim will take effect gradually.  By 2020, there will be no more chareidim that don’t enlist, except for 1800 “masmidim”— though no one has  yet been found to decide and certify who are “the greatest lamdanim” and worthy of an exemption (the Roshei Yeshivos won’t do it, they promise).

The proposed law has three mile markers: Initially, until 2017, anyone seeking to learn Torah will be able to defer army service. Lipman’s party does not accept this idea and is pressing for the draft of thousands even during this interim period. They want this done by establishing quotas for the yeshivos; any yeshivah that does not meet the quota will be punished immediately. Other members of the committee feel that the government should offer financial incentives for bachurim who enlist and for yeshivos who send the largest numbers of bachurim to the IDF.

In other words, while many MKs, among them Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon himself, seek to delay implementation to 2017, Lipman and his cohorts are pressing to begin drafting bachurim right away.

The greatest sonei Yisrael speak from Lipman’s mouth as he writes that “service can be done in the Nachal Chareidi, where they learn and daven, or in Shachar Kachol; there are various options.” Yet senior IDF officers already concede that Nachal Chareidi is not a chareidi unit at all, as it consists of 90 percent non-chareidi soldiers. Dozens of service members in this unit desecrate Shabbos publicly amid confrontations with their chareidi comrades.

Lipman’s other option for the enlisted yeshivah bachurim is the “Shachar” unit, an acronym for Sherut Chareidim, chareidi service. Yet a report written by a respected secular judge notes that the IDF has failed to provide kosher food to these soldiers, and promised them an environment where no women would serve and failed to provide it (the IDF concedes that this is true.) The army also promised the chareidim who come to serve in this unit that they will learn a profession, but they actually receive no professional training at all.

In the past two years, enlistment to the Shachar unit has declined 43%. The IDF has not found the formula to be able to keep chareidi soldiers in a framework that will preserve their chareidi lifestyle. Does it even want to?

3. Lipman writes, “If we analyze the tens of thousands who learn in the yeshivos, it is almost certain that there are 3,200 who don’t learn day and night. All the Roshei Yeshivos have said that anyone who does not learn day and night should go to the army.”

How does he know that there are bachurim who are in the yeshivos who do not learn? Or that all Roshei Yeshivos say that anyone who doesn’t learn Torah day and night should go to the army?

After marriage, if they can find a service framework that will enable them to maintain their frum lifestyle, some Roshei Yeshivos advise some of their students to join that framework. But to this day, the IDF has not built and does not have such a framework. Not a single Rosh Yeshivah will instruct his talmid to join a framework  from which he will return an entirely different person.

Lipman and Co. ignore the social changes of recent years in the chareidi community. Some take courses and get jobs, and their numbers have grown exponentially in the past three years. In addition, since 2007 when the IDF introduced ostensibly chareidi service tracks [in the Shachar and the civil service], the number of enlisted men jumped eight-fold (from 305 in 2007 to 2,372 in 2011); in the last two years, the IDF has all but halted chareidi recruitment, even of those who come willingly because the budget that was allocated fell short of the demand.

In recent years there have been changes on the chareidi scene. If the MKs had allowed things to develop peacefully, the changes would no doubt have widened.

But Mr. Lipman represents a political party that has raised the banner of war against the chareidi community, and has canvassed all the chareidi-haters in Israeli society for its cause. They have no time to wait and see changes being made willingly, gradually, and in accordance with guidance by Gedolei Torah. They want to force it all now. Such anti-religious coercion has never been seen in the State of Israel before, though it exists in history books that record religious persecution.

The truth is that the IDF and the labor market are not prepared to absorb the chareidi public, and all they want to achieve now is to forcibly alter the face of chareidi society. Yet every component of coercion will erode the headway that has been made until now.

For readers in the United States who are not familiar with the details of the military service law under consideration, let me say that the recommendations of Lipman’s Yesh Atid party to impose quotas for lomdei Torah and personal criminal sanctions were not even discussed under the earlier Plessner Committee  and it is possible that the Shaked Committee (the current committee) may not adopt them.

The 35,000 bnei Torah who will ostensibly be allowed to continue learning are  already on army-exempt lists. Aged 25 to 45,  they include fathers of eight or 10 children; the IDF doesn’t want them. In fact, the IDF no longer drafts Russian immigrants, who are totally secular, if they arrive in Israel at the age of 25 or over or are already married, even if they have only one child.

You  failed to mention that your party wishes  that beginning in 2020, all yeshivah students  will be automatically drafted at the age of 18.

You know that this is the doomsday weapon as far as the chareidi community is concerned. Wielding this weapon, and telling all bnei Torah that if they  continue to learn they will be thrown into prison, means that either a civil war will break out between chareidim and the secular public, or the law will not be implemented, but become a dead letter and a mockery.

And finally Lipman writes:

5. “The law asks for those goals to be met. Straightforward and simple. If the goals are not met, then in 2017 all boys with the exception of 1,800 per year will be drafted. Those who refuse to serve will incur the same consequence as anyone else in the country who breaks the law. That may include jail time. Amazingly, even if we reach such an unfortunate situation, 12,600 men between the ages of 18 and 24 will be learning full time as their service to the country in addition to those who are above those ages who decide to focus on Torah learning…”

According to your party’s proposal, which has not yet been approved and we pray that it will not be approved, if most of the bachurim of military age will not be drafted by 2017, all the rules will be canceled and the entire yeshivah world will be subject to the draft.

From that point on there is no more Torah world, just “equal sharing of the burden.” (Except for 1800 masmidim.)

It’s not the chareidi community and its poverty that concerns you, nor it is integration into Israeli society; it is a complete transformation you want—to secularism.

The interest of your party is to integrate chareidim into the general society. Your friends state it openly. Bottom line: Israeli society is out to punish the chareidi sector for being different.

The fact that the basic decision speaks about the law actually taking effect in four more years (2013-2017) means that the Israeli government understands that it cannot obligate even a future government to execute laws that violate the democracy of the minority. In a democracy, even minorities have a status. They are talking about four more years, and it is clear that the coalition then will not be the same as it is now. Even today, there are various parties that don’t agree to that.

As for the quote that in any case people will remain in learning, it contradicts everything he said prior to that. Where did he get the number 12,000 from? It doesn’t even appear in the Yesh Atid proposal.

The State of Israel is nearing the point of understanding that it is impossible to trample a large sector of the population, especially not a sector that has a clear worldview and lifestyle.

An effort to force unprecedented changes on such a sector will not achieve any goals; on the contrary, it will bring about a civil war. And if that’s the objective of Mr. Lipman and his party, then that is exactly the direction in which they are leading the country.