MK Ofer Shelach
MK Ofer ShelachIsrael news photo: Flash 90

A Knesset debate on sanctions against hareidi men who do not enlist to the military turned ugly Monday, with MKs from both hareidi and secularist parties threatening each other with a “culture war.”

The debate centered on whether punishment for non-enlistment should be financial, or take the form of criminal prosecution. Both options are strongly rejected by the hareidi leadership.

Hareidi MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) predicted that the attempt to force yeshiva students into the military will fail.

“Perhaps people look at the hareidi public as one that asks for privileges,” he said, “but we in the state of Israel that was established by Jews who wish to establish a Jewish home here, and hareidi Judaism has said, is saying and will continue to say: if there is a situation in which, G-d forbid, yeshiva students are enlisted, this will not be our national home, with all the meanings that accompany that.”

MK Ofer Shelach of the secularist Yesh Atid responded by saying that the current bill is “generous” toward the hareidim and asked the hareidi representatives to cooperate with it. He warned: “If you make clear to your public that this is not possible, you will be the ones who ignite this culture war. The fire is upon you, not upon us.”

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) fired back at Shelach, and asked: “How can it be that there is a large party in the Knesset that makes proposals because of which we will have to enter into a real culture war with it?” – a reference to bills concerning same-sex marriage, public transport on the Sabbath, and more. “It does not begin and end with the enlistment law. In the end, the question on the table will be – is this a Jewish state or not? And you do not want a Jewish state. You want 'a state like all of the states.'”

The debate took place in the special Knesset committee that was established to hammer out a new law regarding hareidi enlistment, known as the “Equal Burden Committee.” MK Gafni credited Bayit Yehudi's MK Ayelet Shaked, who chairs the committee, for being “gentle and normal” in the way she runs the committee, thus making it possible for the hareidim to participate.

MK Shaked, who favors non-criminal sanctions, suggested that hareidim who avoid enlistment be denied the right to reduced municipal taxes and mortgages. Einat Fisher, an assistant to Minister Yaakov Perry of Yesh Atid, said that this option was found to be impossible since it would be improper to deny citizens social benefits of any kind.

However, representative the Justice Ministry said that financial sanctions are possible if they are defined as “negative incentives.” MK Shaked asked the Knesset's Legal Advisor and the Justice Ministry to look into this option and report on it in the committee's next session.