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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jerusalem - Cabinet adopts haredi draft bill to ultra-Orthodox scorn

The cabinet adopted the equal share of the burden outline, according to which 21-year-old haredim will be drafted to the IDF, beginning in 2017, excluding 1,800 who have proven themselves scholarly-gifted and will continue to study the Torah.

Fourteen ministers voted in favor of the outline, while only four opposed it.

The outline, finalized last May by a committee headed by Minister Yaakov Peri, also recommends that haredi draft-evaders will be criminally sanctioned. The bill will be presented later for a Knesset vote.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the thorny issue at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday and assured the haredi sector that "we will make the change gradually while taking into account the special needs of the haredi public."

"We have two aims in mind," the PM said, "integrating haredi youth in the IDF and in the civil service, and integrating them in the work force.

"I consider it very important to integrate Israeli-Arabs, as well. The outline is incomplete but this issue must be dealt with," he added.

The outline for the haredi draft, one of the last elections' main issues and an ancient divide in Israeli politics, is based on the Peri Committee's conclusions, which set out to enlist all yeshiva students for the first time in either military or civil service.

Finance Minister and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, whose election campaign relied heavily on the issue of the haredi draft, called the outline a "historic change," and claimed it will benefit both the haredi sector and Israeli society as a whole.

"There will be real equality after the cabinet meeting," the finance minister said before the vote.

'Sad day for haredi Jews'

Lapid's enthusiasm was not met in kind by the haredi MKs occupying the opposition benches. "This is a sad day for haredi Judaism," exclaimed MK Meir Porush, of the United Torah Judaism party.

"The government's abuse of the haredi minority verges on persecution and cruelty," he accused. "This day will be marked a black day in the history of the Jewish settlement."

A reluctant ally to the haredim, Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) called the outline "problematic," and added that though grandiose statements are made, the faults are being ignored: "Everyone wants civil service," he said, "but that's something that should be financed. A thorough discussion should be held."

Hatnua Chairwoman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was also unenthusiastic. Though she voted for the outline, she termed it a "lesser evil," and criticized it for affixing inequality between haredim and hesder yeshivas.

"The source of this inequality is in the political power exchange in government," she accused. "The haredim's seat in government was taken by the representatives of the hesder yeshivas' students."

But despite pointing out these faults, both she and her fellow party member Peretz voted for the outline, a decision Livni justified by claiming the outline points at the right direction.

"Since the attorney general determined the subject of inequality should be addressed the day the haredi draft is implemented, we postpone this struggle for that later date. We'll demand the improper deal with the hesder students be reopened."

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