Hareidi anti-enlistment rally (file)
Hareidi anti-enlistment rally (file)Flash 90

The controversial Enlistment Law, passed mid-March and mandating hareidi enlistment to the IDF, appears to have had exactly the opposite effect - hareidi draft rates for March testify to a sharp decline.

Only 140 draftees enlisted to Nahal Hareidi (hareidi brigade) this March, marking a 30% drop from the previous enlistment.

According to official statistics published Friday by Yedioth Ahronoth, the brigade inducted a record 226 soldiers last August; last November 200 soldiers were drafted.

While there had been talk in the IDF of opening an additional hareidi brigade due to the previous growth of the existing brigade, the IDF recently decided to freeze the additional brigade for the time being. 

Last August, two units were opened for the new brigade due to the increased demand. In November, the IDF reduced that to one and a half units, and later with the decrease in inductees those plans were cut down to one regular unit.

Controversial "culture war" law is the culprit

The IDF has acknowledged that the main cause for the decrease in hareidi draftees is the widespread opposition to the new law, which was strongly opposed in mass protests, including a rally in Jerusalem in March that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants.

Just this Thursday, hundreds of hareidim protested in Jerusalem against the jailing of a young man who refused to enlist to the IDF; police arrested five protesters. Sources close to Shas Chairman MK Aryeh Deri say he has negotiated a “quiet deal” to let the man be freed for the Passover seder.

The Nahal Hareidi Foundation notes that the decline in enlistment comes due to the new law, as well as the discussion about extending army service by four months, from 24 to 28 months.

"If last year, thank G-d, we saw calm in terms of the treatment of hareidi soldiers, in recent months the public atmosphere has been severely damaging, and thrown things back by at last a year," stated the Foundation.

Hareidi MKs, such as Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) in February, have argued that the strong-arm moves to enlist hareidim consists of a "culture war" against the hareidi lifestyle.

Extending service, preventing careers

Speaking about the extension of army service, a rabbi with the Nahal Hareidi Foundation remarked "these things have started permeating the ground, and causing a serious drop in motivation to enlist."

"Up till today, at the end of two years of service the soldiers would study a career in the remaining year to prepare themselves for the work world. The extension of service is a critical blow to the year of learning for soldiers," added the rabbi.

It is worth noting that despite the drastic drop in hareidi enlistment to the combat Nahal Hareidi unit, army tracks catering to hareidim in the Intelligence Corps, the Air Force, and Teleprocessing Corps have not seen a drop in enlistment, hinting that draftees there come from families interested in having them acquire a career.

Hareidi society will stop enlistment if action is not taken

IDF statistics report that 898 hareidim enlisted in 2010; 1,282 in 2011; 1,447 in 2012; and 1,858 in 2013. By the coming summer it is anticipated that 2,000 hareidim will enlist, apparently meeting the goal numbers of the Enlistment Law, but there are expected to be serious social problems facing continued drafts by the end of the year.

An IDF official noted "our draftees are having trouble today, they can't walk around the neighborhoods like they used to, and their treatment has changed. ...They don't return home in their uniforms any more like they used to, because the hareidi society has turned against them."

There have indeed been attacks by hareidim against hareidi soldiers. Last July, a hareidi soldier was attacked by a hareidi mob in Jerusalem's Meah Shearim neighborhood, requiring police to save him. Just days later another hareidi soldier was attacked in Jerusalem.

"If a wide-ranging process isn't embarked upon with the (hareidi) rabbis, the drop in motivation to enlist will only continue," warned the official.