In what critics said was an attempt by the government to evade a High Court order to strike down the Tal Law, which provided a way for hareidi men to enter the work force, the government on Sunday authorized the enrollment of 1,300 hareidi students to the National Service program.
According to the High Court decision earlier this year, all hareidi yeshiva students were to be drafted into the IDF upon reaching 18. The government decision essentially exempts the students to be enrolled in the program from being drafted into army service.
With that, government officials said that the National Service program had been an excellent vehicle to enable the state to take advantage of the manpower and talents of the hareidi-religious community. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said that there are currently 2,000 hareidi men enrolled in National Service, up from just 15 four years ago.
While the IDF prepares to draft hareidi-religious men, the army is apparently not yet ready to enroll thousands of yeshiva students in its ranks. As a result, draft notices have not yet been sent – but young hareidi men who would have otherwise signed up for National Service have not done so, in accordance with the High Court decision requiring them to be drafted. As a result, there has been a substantial drop in the number of hareidi men currently in the National Service program – just 1,450, compared to 2,026 just three months ago. Sunday's decision, the government said, will restore the number of young hareidi men in the program to over 2,000.
“Without today's decision, thousands of ultra-orthodox men who would be interested in becoming integrated into civilian service in the police, MDA, fire service, social welfare services, etc. would be unable to sign up,” the Prime Minister's Office said. “These are people who are interested in contributing but, due to their age, are not needed by the IDF for military service.” The program had proven itself, the PMO said. “85% of those who joined civilian service afterwards became integrated into the labor force.”
However, the government's decision did not sit well with everyone. Tzipi Livni, head of the newly formed The Movement party, slammed the government over its decision. “Prime Minister Netanyahu prefers his natural coalition partners over those who share the burden [of military service]. The government’s plan to circumvent the Supreme Court and continue the historic injustice is outrageous and immoral,” she said. Meanwhile, the Yesh Atid party headed by Yair Lapid, said that it plans to file an appeal with the Supreme Court against the decision. “The government plans to continue giving hareidi men an exemption from military service, in the guise of enlisting a small number to civilian service,” the party accused.
Speaking Sunday, Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) head Naftali Bennett said the party could solve the dilemma of hareidi-religious army enlistment if it gets a significant number of seats in Knesset. “As a big party we could solve the Likud’s coalition concerns when it seeks to make a decision that’s good for Israel,” he said. Bennett criticized the government for allowing 1,300 hareidi-religious men to choose civilian service despite being qualified for military service. “The government has to stop buying time and create realistic solutions,” he added.