Retired IDF Major-General Elazar Stern spoke at an event rallying for the end of the Tal Law, which allows full-time yeshiva students to postpone their IDF service. Prior to his retirement earlier this week, Stern served as head of IDF manpower.
The event was held in advance of a Supreme Court hearing next week regarding the law.
The issues of hareidi-religious IDF exemptions, and of draft dodging in other Israeli Jewish communities, threaten more than just IDF manpower, Stern said. Israeli society is “rotting from within,” he said.
"If we are no longer socially involved, that will be one of the biggest existential threats we face,” he warned. He rejected calls to make IDF service optional, saying, “Mandatory enlistment is about much more than the number of recruits.” Israel cannot afford to pay soldiers a much higher wage in order to lure young men and women to volunteer for service, he added.
Tal Law opponents who hosted the event said that over one-third of Jewish Israelis do not serve in the IDF. That number will grow as the hareidi-religious population grows, and as draft dodging becomes more socially acceptable in other segments of society, opponents warned.
Besides fighting the Tal Law, many opponents of draft dodging have opposed the hiring of musicians who avoided IDF service at public events. In addition, the IDF has begun cracking down on women who falsely claim to be religiously observant in order to escape service, observing women who receive exemptions in order to determine whether or not they are actually religious.
Stern told those present that he had taken a personal stance against societal acceptance of draft dodging, and refused to buy products advertised by Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, who avoided IDF service through a fictitious marriage. The companies that hire Refaeli put external appearance over inner beauty, he said.
"I called those companies and their managers, and they told me 'This is what young people like.' I told them that their task is to worry about what young people should like, not what they like now,” he said.
Opponents of the Tal Law plan to continue to rally throughout the week, and will hold a march on Thursday and set up a protest tent near the Knesset on Friday.