Israel is expected to set increasing annual enlistment targets for chareidim, starting with 3,300 in 2013, and reaching 5,600 by 2016. The most important question the committee deals with will be the extent of the financial sanctions imposed on chareidim who refuse to serve. Sanctions are mentioned but not fully spelled out in the coalition agreement between Yesh Atid and Likud Beiteinu. Thus the committee has a delicate task ahead, because if proposed sanctions impose severe hardships on bnei Torahs’ households and force Torah students to enlist, the opposition of the chareidim to the committee’s bill will be that much fiercer.
The committee’s goal is somewhat like Pharaoh’s when he got the Jews started with his avodas parech, to create measures sharp enough to encourage chareidim to go to the army, but not so harsh that they create excessive resistance. This point was stressed by attendees at the conference.
During the committee’s meeting, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the Israel Police could take in thousands of new cadets. Planning Brigade and Manpower Administration Head Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon said that although the army’s growing needs would enable it to take in more chareidim, this should be done gradually in order to give the army time to create suitable frameworks for them in order to avoid upsetting the “normal social fabric of the military,” a catchword for mixed gender. According to IDF’s Manpower Directorate, a potential of 8,000 yeshiva students could eventually be drafted each year.
The committee will proceed full steam to try and meet its deadline of May 6.
Chief of Staff of the IDF Benny Gantz also said that although the army needs more manpower, the process of enlistment should be gradual, albeit steady and continuous. On the other hand, contrary to the IDF’s prior claims, he did not seem fully committed to conforming the army to chareidi needs and said that he would not remove women from all units where chareidim were slated to serve.
“The IDF is a national army where everyone can serve,” he said. “The women of the IDF contribute a significant contribution in every department one can think of.”
Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to encourage chareidim to prefer work over learning, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry is offering 85% rebates on training courses for chareidim and other groups underrepresented in the labor force.
On Sunday, the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel convened in Yerushalayim to discuss the IDF threat to yeshiva students and how to address the government’s threat to reduce funding to chadorim and yeshiva ketanos unless they adopt the government educational guidelines known as the Liba Plan. The meeting was attended by the rabbeim of Gur, Belz, Viznitz, Sanz, Boyan, Slonim, Biala, and Sadigora.
In effect, the meeting was a declaration of war against Education Minister Shai Piron of Yesh Atid who has indicated that he wants to remain on good terms with the chareidim, yet simultaneously threatens that any institution not including the Liba subjects in its curriculum will lose government funding.
“The chareidi educational institutions must choose between two alternatives,” Piron said. “To accept the Liba program or to reject its integration into their syllabus which will lead to the denial of funding. Do you want money from the government? Liba studies are the condition the government makes for receiving them.”
“If you don’t go along with me, I’ll take the money,” he said.
During the Moetzes meeting, it was stressed that Torah education will remain absolutely free of outside influences and not be changed by one iota even if this leads to loss of funding. Ways and means were discussed of how to ensure this vital principle. The Moetzes also discussed the government’s increasing attempts to encourage chareidim to gain academic degrees and the dangers of chareidim working in immodest workplaces that do not conform with Torah values.
It was decided to explore the possibility of establishing courses free of academic degrees for those in need of a trade, and the establishment of a committee to help provide people with jobs in suitable environments.
It is reported that the Torah tzibbur of New York is planning a massive Yom Tefillah in lower Manhattan in order to increase awareness of the threats discussed above.
Another threat to the Torah public of Israel is looming austerity legislation that seems necessary to lower Israel’s deficit. In an effort to boost his waning popularity, Finance Minister Yair Lapid has suggested raising Israel deficit limits from 3% to 4.2% in 2013. This would enable the government to halve budget cuts from $8.26 billion to 4.68 billion. The Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, strongly opposes Lapid’s suggestion, saying that it would negatively impact Israel’s financial ratings in the global market.
The Social Justice Forum that organized social protests in summer 2011 supported Lapid’s initiative, arguing that it is “responsible toward the Israeli public, not the international companies,” and encouraging him to also increase taxes on the rich.
On Monday morning, Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen agreed not to cut the budget of the Welfare Ministry but will allow the cuts to child allowances to go forward as planned. The Social Workers Association of Israel accepted the cuts but pointed out, “All the cuts to child allowances and applying value added tax to fruits and vegetables [of an additional half percent] mean there will be more applicants for welfare services.”
It seems that no matter how he cuts it, Lapid can’t come out ahead.