It is not fair for young hareidi men to have the choice of whether or not to enlist in the IDF while other young Israeli men do not, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Tuesday. However, he said, it is the best option Israel has.
Yaalon was speaking to high school students in the city of Dimona in southern Israel.
He spoke about several topics, including the transfer of IDF bases to the Negev, the Iranian nuclear issue, and hareidi enlistment.
“There’s tremendous importance in hareidi enlistment, preferably to military service, but also to civilian national service,” Yaalon said.
“A problematic reality has been created here over the course of 65 years, a reality that nobody meant to create, of an entire sector of society that does not serve,” he continued. “This is a sensitive issue.”
“You won’t hear me inciting against this population or delegitimizing it, because I don’t believe in forced enlistment,” he informed the students.
He empathized with their situation, saying, “You’ll say, ‘It’s not fair, I have to do mandatory service, and they don’t.’ You’re right. But in my experience – and I have some experience in this matter – the right way is to allow hareidi men to serve, not to drag them from their benches in yeshiva and put them in jail.”
The IDF started attracting hareidi-religious recruits in 1999, he said. “Back then we had 90 [hareidi] soldiers. Last year there were 2,000 serving in the IDF and another 1,500 in civilian national service,” he related.
“It’s contagious,” he added. “Once, you wouldn’t have seen a young man in uniform in Bnei Brak or in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and suddenly it’s becoming a natural thing, you see soldiers’ laundry in those neighborhoods.”
“And it doesn’t have to be ‘hareidi equals poor’… Because when they get out of the army, 91% of the former soldiers from the hareidi sector are employed… So even if it costs as more, and it does cost us more for them to serve for all sorts of reasons, it’s worth it down the line,” he explained.
Rabbis who work with hareidi soldiers have warned that attempting to force enlistment will put an end to voluntary enlistment.
He addressed concerns that if more hareidi men serve in the IDF, it will affect opportunities for female soldiers, due to the strict gender segregation in hareidi society. There is no reason women’s service should suffer, Yaalon said.
“We find a way. We see woman’s contribution to the IDF as important. We’re talking about extending their service, which would open more positions to [women],” he revealed.
“Girls have nothing to worry about. Their service in the IDF, their opportunities, won’t suffer… We’ll definitely find a way for hareidi men to serve, for women to serve, each person in the way that suits them,” he concluded.