Dozens of ultra-Orthodox rabbis gathered on Monday in a show of opposition to the Shaked Committee's attempt to fine-tune the details of haredi enlistment into the Israel Defense Forces. Two conferences were held ahead of the committee's publication of its findings, one in Bnei Brak, organized by the Lithuanian Council of Torah Sages, and one in Jerusalem, organized by the Hasidic Council of Torah Sages.
Rabbis at both conferences aggressively attacked the idea of haredi enlistment. Those in Bnei Brak met under a banner that read, "A gathering of yeshiva leaders [in] an outcry from the world of the Torah against the decree of enlistment in the Land of Israel." Many rabbis argued that along with a mass draft of haredi men would come decreased knowledge of and adherence to the Torah, which they say will negatively impact the country as a whole.
Despite strong words against enlistment, rabbis at both meetings did not prohibit yeshiva students from reporting to a recruitment center after receiving their first draft summons. They did, however, threaten to hold street protests with tens of thousands of their followers.
"They are trying to bring us closer to temptations; they want to take our sons out of the yeshiva. We must fortify the wall to make it stronger, so that they will not be able to achieve this," said Rabbi Yigal Ratzon, a conference speaker.
"From here, we will cry out to our brothers: We are one nation. Who makes such decrees upon their own brothers?! If, God forbid, we need a last resort, we know how to bring out thousands of people to a city's streets. If it is necessary, we will not hesitate to do so."
And Rabbi Boruch Dov Povarsky, head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, said: "We are fighting for our lives; they don't understand. They want to kill us, all of us. The Torah is our life, and [yeshiva] students must take to heart and know that this is a war of life and death."
After the Bnei Brak conference, one participant said: "The rabbis made it extremely clear that they oppose any kind of sanctions [for not enlisting], criminal or economic. There is no change in the [rabbis'] instructions as of yet, and a yeshiva student who receives a draft notice must go [to the recruitment office]. We are not starting a war, but if they force this upon us, we will react as someone does when there is a threat to his life."
Christians next on the draft list
Meanwhile, the Committee for the Equal Sharing of the Burden decided on Monday to establish a special team to examine the possibility of a widespread draft of Christian Arab citizens. The decision was made following a discussion initiated by committee head MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi). The team will include MKs Israel Hasson (Kadima) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu).
Rotem said in the discussion: "An equal burden means equality for all the country's citizens, including minorities, and not just the haredim. Conscription must treat everyone equally, including minorities."
Hasson said: "The time has come for Israel to take responsibility and to begin extending conscription to the Bedouin in the north and to the Christians. There is potential here to change a social concept. We must not be afraid."
Christian Draft Forum representative Shadi Haloul said: "You must understand that we are not Israeli Arabs. Christian youth know what the country gives them, compared to what they would get in Arab countries. Israel is the right country and it is up to us to integrate."