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Haredi enlistment law designed to increase haredi employment – analysis

CM 23/08/2021

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Although the bill does include provisions to incentivize IDF enlistment, the introduction of a clause reducing the age of military exemption from 24 to 21 is an attempt by the government to remove the legal obstacle preventing large numbers of haredi yeshiva students from seeking higher education and employment.
Since 2002, military service deferrals have been legally available to full-time yeshiva students on condition that they spend 40 hours a week studying in their yeshivas, precluding the option of employment or higher education for most students.

The age of military service exemption is currently 24, meaning that if young haredi men wish to avoid IDF enlistment, as the large majority currently do, they must wait till 24 before being able to get a job or educational qualifications.
At the same time, haredi men get married early – at an average age of 22 and a half, according to the Israel Democracy Institute – and have their first child on average by the age of 23 and a half.
This means that by the time they reach the age of military service exemption, their ability to enter higher education or professional qualification frameworks is greatly reduced since they already have weighty financial and family responsibilities. 
This in turn reduces their productivity and ability to earn a substantial salary, creating a serious burden for the overall Israeli economy, especially long-term bearing in mind the high population growth of the haredi sector.
A recent position paper by President of the IDI Yohanan Plesner together with Dr. Gilad Malach, director of the center’s haredi program, calculated that failing to reduce the age of exemption would mean 10,000 fewer haredi men in employment by 2030, reducing the country’s GDP by some NIS 14.5 billion.
The paper also noted that the large majority of haredi men who do enlist – 69% – do so between age 18 and 20, compared with just 21% of those age 21-23, and 10% of those age 24-27.
HAREDI PROTESTERS decry the draft in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)HAREDI PROTESTERS decry the draft in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
The authors argued therefore that reducing the age of exemption would not greatly damage the incentive to enlist.
They also noted that 80% of those interviewed in an IDI survey stated that they would still have enlisted even if the age of exemption was just 21 years old.
There is, however, a crucial problem in lowering the age of exemption: haredi enlistment even now does not meet government-set targets. Reducing the enlistment potential of 30% of haredi recruits would make it even harder to meet those targets.
Yes, the new law includes financial sanctions against yeshivas that do not meet enlistment targets designed to incentivize enlistment, but those sanctions are modest, as are the enlistment targets themselves.
The upshot of this situation is that although the new haredi “enlistment law” may be good for the Israeli economy, it will not bring about greater haredi enlistment. That means that the goal of increasing enlistment equality will likely not be advanced, and the current inequality where haredi soldiers are far fewer in number than their secular and national-religious counterparts will be preserved.
The entire fight over haredi enlistment over the last 30 years has centered over this issue of equality and fairness, with the High Court of Justice on three occasions striking down frameworks in which young haredi men enjoy a greater ability to avoid military service than their peers due to the discrimination inherent in such arrangements.
The new legislation, if passed, would without a doubt be challenged again in the High Court, and it is unclear if it will deviate from its previous position that the inherent lack of equality in the military service exemptions for yeshiva students can be legally justified.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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