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If Lapid punishes Haredi, Israel will get robbed

By Tuvia Brodie
2/20/2014, 4:02 PM

The subtitle of this essay is, ‘Measure-for-Measure’

Yair Lapid, the Head of Israel’s Yesh Atid political party, is also Israel’s Finance Minister. Since beginning his term as Israel’s premier ‘bean counter’ (March 2013), he has proclaimed his dedication to sound fiscal planning. He will control Israel’s expenses.  He will punish welfare cheats. He will reduce Israel’s budget deficit.

He will save Israel.

He starts his path to Glory with those welfare cheats. He has found thousands of them.

In Israel, the accepted way of life for youth is to graduate high school and do army or National Service before getting on with life. Your service-to-country opens doors, benefits, education opportunities and jobs. It is how you live as a young Israeli.

Haredi (the ultra-orthodox) do not live this way. For religious reasons, most Haredi men do not enlist into the IDF (Israel Defense Force) or do National Service (which is similar to America’s VISTA volunteer program).

Haredi study Torah. They dedicate their lives to Torah. They work in ‘Torah study’. They do not work in secular environments.

But they receive government money. Their Yeshivot (schools) receive State funding to teach them Torah. Their families receive benefits for living needs.

That enrages some Israelis. These Israelis do not support Torah study. Many do not even like Tora. They work at ‘normal’ jobs. They pay high taxes. They believe that Haredi men are ‘welfare cheats’. They want the Haredi to forget the Torah (the core of our religion) and go to work.

These Israelis speak harshly of Haredi. Because Haredi choose not to serve or work in the traditional way (and yet receive government assistance), some Israelis call them ‘parasites’.

To financial and accounting experts, there is too much unemployment among Haredi. There is too little income tax paid by Haredi. There are too many benefits paid to Haredi.

But the real challenge in Israel is not how to punish Haredi for being ‘parasites’. It’s how to help Haredi meld their ‘work’ in Torah with traditional work, and how to bring Haredi youth into army/National Service in a way that does not contradict their beliefs.

Several recommendations have been made. Some Haredi programs have begun. Progress has been made. But it is a slow progress.

It’s too slow for those who call Haredi ‘parasites’.

Enter Israel’s newest hero, Yair Lapid. He has a plan. He will use the issue of army/National Service to wean the Haredi from public welfare.

He will use that issue as a sledge hammer. He will use that hammer against the Haredi.

He will use the Haredi to save Israel.

His plan is simple. He will cut off government funds to Yeshivot (religious schools) where service-avoiding Haredi youth attend. He will curtail support payments to families of Haredi who avoid serving. He will seek a prison sentence for every Haredi youth who refuses to serve.

Nobody talks about cutting funds to Universities where a growing number of secular ‘draft-dodgers’ attend. No one talks about support payment cut-off or prison terms for secular youth who defy Service.

But they talk about these things for the Haredi. Lapid has listened to that talk. He has found a solution for that talk.  

There’s just one problem. Lapid’s plan won’t work. It doesn’t save money. It costs money.  

Think about it. Lapid’s plan is based on coercing Haredi youth into the army. That starts with arresting Haredi ‘draft dodgers’ (you go to prison or the army; you choose).

It costs money to find which Haredi youth to arrest. It costs more money to arrest and process them through the justice system.

Then it costs money to drive them to prison. It costs money to run the prisons. It costs money to repair and maintain the prisons. It costs money to pay court, police, transportation and prison workers.

It will cost money to handle the legal work Haredi lawyers will create by appeals and complaints. It will cost money to deal with Haredi protests around Israel—to pay for police, court, transportation and detention costs generated by Haredi protest arrests.

By the time you add it all up—including State and employer contributions to employee health and pension benefits—the cost-per-Haredi inmate far exceeds the money saved from ending Haredi benefit payments.

This isn’t chump change we’re talking about. Lapid thinks he can save Israel several million NIS. But his plan will cost Israel tens of millions to arrest, process, house and maintain his Haredi prisoners.

Yesterday (February 19, 2014), the Knesset committee tasked with preparing a new draft law (to address the Haredi-army issue) approved criminal sanctions for Hareidim who evade army service.  But because this is Israel, that committee vote is not the end of the matter. There will be a re-vote. That re-vote will be 'later.'

Lapid, Israel's new hero, wants these criminal sanctions for Haredi. He has threatened to bring down the government (by bolting the coalition) if he does not get his criminalization. He is now more than half-way to his goal.

If he succeeds, he could be a man of firsts in Israel. He could become the first man in Israel to turn Haredi youth into convicts who, because of their convictions, may not be able to find work—and who will therefore have to receive government benefits for their living needs—for the rest of their lives.

He could also become the first Israeli official to pick Israel’s pocket. He might indeed punish the Haredi. But, as you have just seen, he could also get Israel robbed by that punishment.

Perhaps that’s why the subtitle here is, ‘Measure-for-Measure.’