The Ultra-Orthodox Free-Loaders in Israel Posing Existential Threat to Israel and to Jews

Israel’s Draft Dodging Haredi, the Legal Impetus, the Moral Imperative and Israel’s Financial Future

The IDF and its need for troops aren’t the real issue in the Haredi draft battle

Israel may be heading to snap elections over the enlistment of a few hundred more ultra-Orthodox recruits, which would do little to address the army’s manpower woes

 

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox young man for draft-dodging on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox young man for draft-dodging on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

That Israel may be heading toward a second general election within months — if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a majority coalition — actually has relatively little to do with the military or its very real manpower concerns, even though this failure stems from irreconcilable differences between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and the ultra-Orthodox factions over the conscription of yeshiva students.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman is demanding an increase in the level of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces, with the threat of economic sanctions on ultra-Orthodox institutions if they do not meet these goals. The Haredi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, are demanding precisely the opposite: more exemptions for their communities’ yeshiva students. And Netanyahu needs both Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties for a majority coalition.

The IDF is indeed grappling with the potential threat of significant troop shortages following a 2015 amendment to the country’s draft law that cut the mandatory service for men from three years to two years and eight months, and plans to further reduce males’ service to 30 months beginning in 2020.

Yet while ostensibly stemming from the manpower needs of the military, the direct impetus for this partisan fight between Yisrael Beytenu and the Haredi parties comes not from IDF requests, but from legal necessity.

n 2012, the High Court of Justice struck down the 2002 “Tal Law,” which had dictated ultra-Orthodox enlistment levels but was found to do so unfairly and thus illegally. A more demanding replacement law was proposed in 2013 by the Yesh Atid party, but it was soon amended and moderated once the Haredi parties were brought back into the government. In 2017, the High Court struck down that law as well, declaring it similarly unjust.

Even during the years when this weakened 2013 replacement law was in effect, the IDF never reached the prescribed Haredi enlistment numbers, sometimes falling short by hundreds of recruits.

While Netanyahu now needs to find another formulation, one that simultaneously satisfies the demands of Liberman, the ultra-Orthodox parties, and the High Court of Justice, ensuring the IDF has its manpower requirements met is not one of these demands. And nor would even the most dramatic of proposals that are seriously being considered come close to meeting the IDF’s needs.

Liberman’s plan, while seen as entirely too extreme by the Haredi factions, would see only a comparatively modest increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. The proposal put forward by Liberman’s Defense Ministry last year would initially require 3,348 ultra-Orthodox men to enlist in the IDF each year and another 648 take part in some kind of national service, a small increase on the current quotas. These numbers would increase, first by eight percent each year for three years, then 6.5 percent for another three years and finally by five percent for four more years, reaching 5,737 ultra-Orthodox military recruits and 1,107 national servicemen after a decade.

If the draft falls short of 95% of these targets, sanctions in the form of cuts to state funds allocated to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas would be put in place. The fines would increase each year the targets are missed.

On Monday, Liberman confirmed that this was a symbolic battle over the nature of the country, not one about the IDF’s readiness for war.

“It’s not just the draft law. The draft law became a symbol. And we certainly won’t give up on our symbols… but look at what is happening here,” he said, referring to demands by the Haredi parties in recent months to halt all government work on Saturday.

“I want to emphasize another time: We are in favor of a Jewish state, we are against a halachic state,” Liberman added, using the Hebrew term for Jewish law.

Since the 2015 cutback, the military has adopted a host of new measures and programs to make up for its manpower losses, and the prospect of the additional reduction in 2020 is still being protested by the IDF in the halls of the Kirya — the Defense Ministry and military headquarters — and the Knesset.

The enlistment of these few hundred more Haredi recruits each year is not likely to have a significant effect on the military’s manpower shortages, nor is it trumpeted by IDF officials as a potential game-changer on this front, especially as ultra-Orthodox servicemen require on average more investment per soldier by the IDF due to their community’s relatively low socioeconomic position.

There are, of course, other reasons for encouraging greater Haredi enlistment in the military beyond simple manpower numbers.

Israel remains one of the few countries around the world with near universal conscription, and the IDF is described as a “people’s army,” one that is supposed to reflect the diverse nature of Israeli society.

This is a “supreme value that will continue to serve as the basis for the IDF’s activities and to direct it,” the Defense Ministry wrote in its recommendations last year.

The military can also serve as an important economic and social springboard, offering people skills, qualifications and experiences that would be otherwise difficult or expensive to obtain — especially for a comparatively poor and economically underperforming community like Israel’s ultra-Orthodox.

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Israel Headed Toward Political Meltdown as Shasniks Refuse to Submit to Mandatory IDF Service Like all Israelis

The New York Times

With 2 Days Left, Israel’s Netanyahu Struggles to Form a Government

 

JERUSALEM — With just two days left before the deadline for forming a government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was struggling Monday to sign up coalition partners, thrusting the country into a political crisis and raising the possibility that it could be forced to hold a new election.

The drama stemmed from a battle of wills between two political forces that Mr. Netanyahu needs to form a right-wing coalition: the ultra-Orthodox religious parties that won 16 parliamentary seats in the April 9 election, and Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won five seats and whose constituents are mostly secular, Russian-speaking Israelis.

Having long sparred over issues of religion and state, the sides are now wrestling over legislation to replace a military draft law that exempted ultra-Orthodox men. Mr. Lieberman supports a law that sets modest quotas for enlisting them, which the religious parties oppose.

A new law must be passed by late July, according to a deadline imposed by Israel’s Supreme Court.

Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, which won 35 seats, needs the ultra-Orthodox parties, Yisrael Beiteinu and two other parties to assemble a 61-seat majority.

Analysts said it was entirely possible that the parties could resolve their differences, allowing Mr. Netanyahu to announce a new government by midnight Wednesday, which would not be the first time Israeli coalition negotiations have gone to the wire.

But the alternative threatened to catapult Israel into uncharted political terrain: Israel has never had to hold a new national ballot because of a failure to form a government after an election.

“Right now it looks as if we are at a deadlock because everybody has climbed to the top of a tree and nobody’s ready to get down, especially not Lieberman,” said Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Putting the chances of a new election at 50-50, he added, “Definitely there is a possibility that we will have early elections even before the government was formed.”

On Sunday, Likud submitted a motion to disperse the newly sworn-in Parliament, paving the way for new elections. While questions arose over the legality of an interim government taking such action, the move seemed like a canny negotiating tactic in a game of political chicken.

By Monday, one newspaper, Maariv, had already published a poll asking, “If elections were held today, who would you vote for?”

On Monday evening, the motion passed a preliminary vote in Parliament; possible dates were being bandied about for a new election in about three months.

Even as his party moved toward a new election, Mr. Netanyahu insisted he didn’t want one.

“It is still possible to come to our senses,” he said in a televised address Monday evening. “I promise that I will continue to work in every possible way during the time that is still left in order to form the government. I call upon Avigdor Lieberman to reconsider.”

Mr. Netanyahu also quoted a tweet posted on Monday by President Trump endorsing Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts, which many critics described as an improper intervention in Israel’s domestic politics. Mr. Trump, calling Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname, Bibi, wrote: “Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever.”

Calling a new election would pre-empt another possibility, distasteful to Mr. Netanyahu, that Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, could offer someone else the chance to form a government.

Image
Avigdor Lieberman, the former defense minister, said he was not prepared to be part of a government controlled by religious law.CreditDan Balilty for The New York Times

The opposition is led by Blue and White, a new centrist party whose main appeal was that it was not led by Mr. Netanyahu, who has already served 13 years as prime minister and is facing indictment on corruption charges.

Mr. Netanyahu, who is on track to become Israel’s longest serving prime minister this summer, is also the first to face possible criminal charges while in office. In February, the attorney general announced plans to indict him in three cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The attorney general has set a hearing for October where Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyers can plead his case before a final decision is made.

The Likud nevertheless won five more seats than last time, which Mr. Netanyahu took as a vote of confidence, and together with the right-wing and religious parties that made up his last coalition, seemed poised to form a government with a majority of 65 seats.

He also appeared set to take on another challenge — promoting legislation that would guarantee him immunity from prosecution while in office. Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday night in a protest against such a move.

Instead, Mr. Netanyahu has found himself at the mercy of smaller parties engaged in a power struggle over the military draft law, which critics said was in any case a mild compromise unlikely to significantly change the status quo.

There is a long history of bad blood between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman, a blunt, tough-talking politician who resigned as defense minister in Mr. Netanyahu’s last government and was eyeing returning to the post.

Some commentators suggested that Mr. Lieberman was driven by a desire for revenge against his old nemesis, or was counting on the prospect that Mr. Netanyahu could not survive an indictment and was setting himself up as an alternative.

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If They are Not Going to Follow the Laws of the Country, they Should be Prosecuted to Tossed Out

An ultra-Orthodox demonstration against the arrest of an IDF draft-dodger in Jerusalem on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protesters block Jerusalem roads; 30 arrested

Demonstrators gather at major intersection to rally against draft-dodger’s arrest; footage shows IDF soldier aiming rifle at protesters who called him a ‘Nazi’

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocked traffic and disrupted the light rail service for several hours Thursday in protest of the arrest of an army draft-dodger from a religious seminary in Jerusalem.

Protesters sat in the street and on the rail tracks at a junction of Jaffa Road, near the main traffic entrance to the city, chanting “We will die and not be drafted.”

Some of the protesters reportedly called police “Nazis.”

Police said 30 people were arrested during the demonstration at the intersection of the Jaffa and Sarei Yisrael streets, near the capital’s Central Bus Station.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox for draft-dodging on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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Neturei Karta – Protest NYC Against Israeli IDF – and the Draft

Neturei Karta Protest in NYC in Protest Against IDF

On Sunday, January 6th, close to 100 members of the anti-Zionist Hassidic
group Neturei Karta marched towards Grand Central Terminal in midtown
Manhattan to stage a vocal protest against the Israeli government and their
decision to draft yeshiva men and women in the country’s army. The
videographer said that the site was chosen as it is located across the
street from the New York offices of the Israel Defense Forces and that many
Israeli soldiers and commanders are often present in the area. The group of
demonstrators were made up of members of the Satmar Chassidic dynasty as
well as member of the Neturei Karta. As in the past, the Neturei Karta were
mispresenting the facts concerning the conscription of young Orthodox Jewish
women, according to witnesses.

US Troop Withdrawal from Syria, Corruption, Subsidies for Ultra-Orthodox IDF Draft Dodging and a Government in Peril – Israel

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

The specific issue that brought down Bibi’s government was subsidies for ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. Still, he thinks he’ll win at the polls again in April.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — In the most expected surprise declaration of 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the dissolution of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and elections to be held in early April.

The move comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump roiled the region with the startling announcement he was immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, and as his long-anticipated plan to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians appears to be have shriveled.

A 2019 electoral campaign was inevitable, in fact. Netanyahu’s four-year mandate runs out in November 2019, but Monday’s unforeseen move became inescapable when Netanyahu was unable to muster the necessary votes to pass a popular law levying heavier fines against orthodox Jewish seminary students who dodge Israel’s otherwise universal draft of 18-years-olds on religious grounds.

Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition members opposed the law, and two opposition parties that had initially hinted at support withdrew it due to fears Netanyahu and his religious political partners had cut a secret deal providing financial compensation to counterbalance fines imposed on draft dodgers.

Elections have been in the air since Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation last month, which left the survival of Netanyahu’s coalition hanging by a single Knesset vote.

Lieberman has since taunted Netanyahu for his “government for survival,” but the prime minister remains the most popular leader in Israel’s rambunctious multi-part political process.

The next three months will see Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely known, confront unprecedented tests, none more challenging than his own precarious legal predicament.

Following police and state attorney recommendations that he be indicted on several corruption charges, senior Israeli jurists say his prosecution appears inevitable.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, an essential partner in any future Netanyahu government, restated on Monday that no minister, and no prime minister, can continue to serve if indicted.

Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a rare statement reassuring the public that its work in sifting through the legal recommendations will continue “as usual” despite the announcement of elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who will make the final determination, said at a conference last week that Israeli law has not yet had to decide whether a sitting prime minister may remain in office if facing legal prosecution.

In recent years, both a president and a prime minister resigned when facing almost certain indictment,. Both eventually served time in prison.

Speaking to a quickly assembled meeting of his parliamentary faction, and ignoring the legal drama, Netanyahu forecast victory in the April vote and said the coalition he currently leads—the most right-wing in Israeli history and one of the most volatile— is “the seed” for his future government.

Listing his administration’s achievements, Netanyahu ignored instability in the financial markets that saw the Tel Aviv stock exchange lose more than 5 percent of its value since U.S. President Donald Trump’s startling decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, where they have provided crucial support for Israeli efforts to contain and halt Iranian entrenchment.

Lauding his government’s “four full years of achievements,” Netanyahu praised Israel as “a growing power, with flourishing diplomatic ties” with continental powerhouse nations such as India, Brazil and Australia, far from Israel’s historic allies.

After extolling ties with “west and east Europe, and central Europe, and Latin America,” Netanyahu extolled Israel’s alliance “with the United States that has never been stronger, with the historic decision made by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

“Israel has the eighth most powerful military on earth,” he boasted to his followers. “It is hard to believe, Israel is not a large country, but serious institutions rank us that high.”