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How not to draft the ultra-Orthodox

The Peri Committee plan, rooted in blithe ignorance of the Haredi reality, is a recipe for utter failure

The government’s Peri Committee is offering a solution to the unequal burden of military service that is far from ideal. Why? Because it won’t result in the ultra-Orthodox joining the army, at least not for the next four years.

If so, why are Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid determined to pass the law? Ah… It’s simple: they live in Tel Aviv. In other words, they have never actually met the ultra-Orthodox.

Over the last decade, Jerusalem residents have witnessed a lengthy, difficult struggle over the character of our city. We have succeeded on a number of fronts: the fight against excluding women from the public sphere, retaining the pluralistic character of neighborhoods, and so much more.

We have succeeded because we became acquainted with the ultra-Orthodox community and we realized one key fact: the ultra-Orthodox community is undergoing significant changes, with two distinct undercurrents pulling in opposite directions. The first trend is an increasing interest in being part of Israeli society. These are people who feel Israeli and value the State of Israel. The other group is increasingly disinterested in joining society at large.

The ultra-Orthodox who wish to integrate into society face two main challenges. One is that they don’t know how to join society, so many don’t. But given the chance, they will gladly find their place. The second challenge is pressure from their more radical peers, who deny their religious devotion, threaten to not accept their children to schools, and other such sanctions.

The more radical group perpetuates the old narrative: The Zionists who are trying to destroy the ultra-Orthodox world and the secular who want to harass the ultra-Orthodox for no reason. The country is indebted to them, and nobody can interfere in their community. We shall declare all-out war against anyone who tries, martyring ourselves to sanctify G-d’s name.

What we’ve learned in Jerusalem is to encourage the moderate voices in the ultra-Orthodox community, those who wish to join the Israeli and Jerusalemite public sphere and to resist the zealots.

The problem is that the Peri Committee does exactly the opposite. According to its plan, it will continue to exempt the entire ultra-Orthodox community from service. And in four years, anyone who doesn’t join the army – will go to jail.

This precisely empowers the more radical voices, who are waiting for a chance to prove that the secular want only to harass the ultra-Orthodox. Of course they’ll fight the Committee’s plan. It is clear that being jailed will be equated with “martyrdom for the sake of G-d,” playing right into the hands of the more radical groups

The Peri Committee has done nothing to encourage or empower the more moderate voices in the ultra-Orthodox community, who wish to join Israeli society. This is absurd, precisely because the Committee’s plan will take effect in four years, if at all, until which time the ultra-Orthodox will continue to be exempt from military duty. For some unclear reason the army will not be enlisting any ultra-Orthodox solders for four years, and meanwhile the radical response will have four years to gain strength.

And what if a new government is formed and ultra-Orthodox representatives reverse the decision? Then what? We’ve strengthened the radicals, distanced the moderates, and of course – the ultra-Orthodox will continue to be exempt from service.

This is what Yair Lapid is fighting for?

It’s not too late to make changes in the Committee’s plan.

We should reverse it! Begin enlisting many more ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the existing programs. Introduce new programs for ultra-Orthodox recruits, and begin applying sanctions now to anyone under the age of 25.

But to realize this, you have to actually know members of the ultra-Orthodox community – or be a Jerusalemite.

About the Author
Rachel Azaria is Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, holding the education portfolio and women's rights portfolio. Azaria earned a BA in psychology and MA in conflict resolution, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. An alumna of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, Azaria served as the CEO of Mavoi Satum, a non-profit organization helping women denied a get (Jewish divorce) by their husbands. Azaria was first elected to the city council in 2008, and held the Early Childhood Education and Community Councils portfolios in her first term. In 2013 she was reelected and appointed deputy mayor. The Yerushalmim Party, that she chairs, doubled itself in the recent elections. She is an active leader of the struggle against the exclusion of women from the Israeli public sphere, and gained international recognition as a leading orthodox feminist. She lives in the Katamonim (Gonenim) district of Jerusalem with her husband and their four children.