Hareidi extremists, police clash (archive)
Hareidi extremists, police clash (archive) Israel news photo: Flash 90

Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, said Sunday that he does not believe hareidi-religious men should go to jail for draft evasion.

“It would just fuel the extremists who have no interest in the process,” he told Kol B’Rama radio. “And at the same time, it would have no practical meaning.”

The Jewish Home party opposes criminal sanctions for hareidi draft-dodgers, while the Yesh Atid party led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid is in favor, he explained.

However, he said, ultimately the Likud party will make the choice. “We’re waiting to hear the Likud’s stance, because they will decide,” he noted.

The Jewish Home, Yesh Atid and Likud parties must not make crucial decisions regarding hareidi-religious enlistment alone, he argued. “A process of such significance to the nation of Israel in regards to hareidi Jews must not be made without dialog with hareidi Jews,” he declared. “It cannot be a decree from above.”

Bennett struggled to explain why Yesh Atid supports criminal sanctions. “I don’t understand this desire to see criminal sanctions… I’m not sure, it could be the Supreme Court will say that criminal law must apply equally to everyone,” he said. Draft dodging is normally a criminal offense; Israeli Arabs and hareidi-religious Jews are currently exempt from the law because they are not drafted.

“If there is a way to avoid criminal sanctions, then I just don’t see the point,” Bennett said.

Bennett noted that in his eyes, the primary goal is not hareidi enlistment in the IDF, but rather, hareidi participation in the workforce. “When 32 percent of first grade students are hareidi – which is fine – it’s clear that the Israeli economy won’t last long if a large number of them do not join the workforce,” he warned.

“I think that in the long term, they should take part in army service, but it should be gradual. For me, it’s important that hareidi men be free to work, because otherwise the Israeli economy simply will not survive,” he continued.

“Whoever is really learning Torah from morning to night, let them learn. But I don’t think there are really 8,000 like that each year,” he argued, adding, “By the way, in all of Jewish history there was nothing like that.”

Hareidi-religious leaders have declared that Torah learning is of utmost importance – more so than enlistment in the military or seeking employment. While some hareidi-religious men choose to enlist in the IDF, the majority have traditionally deferred service in favor of full-time Torah study.

However, the option of deferral was cancelled last year with the cancellation of the Tal Law, and the Knesset is currently working on a law that will require hareidi men to enlist.