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Attorney General on the Warpath    

   Avreichim will suffer most under the Left's anti-yeshivah crusade

Photo: Flash90

A pincer movement by Israel’s High Court and attorney general has ramped up the pressure on Israel’s Torah world, turning tens of thousands of bochurim and avreichim into lawbreakers, and threatening financial catastrophe for thousands of families.

This isn’t hyperbole for the ears of overseas donors, fresh off generous pledges last week to pick up the tab for the swinging cuts in yeshivah budgets that come courtesy of Israel’s judges. In the aftermath of the High Court’s 9-0 ruling last Tuesday, which doesn’t recognize the “Toraso umanuso (his Torah is his occupation)” status of a single yeshivah bochur or avreich, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is doing everything to ensure that it doesn’t remain a dead letter.

Alongside her immediate instruction to the government to freeze the funding for yeshivos and kollelim, the attorney general made clear that she intends to issue a series of detailed directives over the coming days and weeks targeting households led by avreichim, including cutting arnonah (property tax) discounts that save every avreich’s family thousands of shekels a month and child care subsidies, without which their wives will be unable to go out and work.

With no real option of sending military police to Ponevezh to recruit yeshivah students by force, the attorney general and High Court justices have outlined an alternative strategy: Hit the chareidim in the pocket.

Roshei yeshivah and roshei kolleim I spoke with after the decision seemed to have shifted from the euphoria of the massive Keren Olam HaTorah fundraising campaign in the US to the depressive phase after taking in the full extent of the High Court’s ruling, which threatens to topple the already shaky financial foundations of the Torah world, not only on the public level but on the private level of each avreich’s household.

Tens of thousands of yeshivah students are now asking themselves where they go from here. Little faith can be placed in the promises of chareidi politicians, who for their part never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to settle the matter legislatively. Bibi has yet to renounce his commitment to seek a legislative solution, but is focused on his own political survival. He contends that in every scenario — even if the process is brought to a halt by elements in the Likud and Religious Zionism Party — a right-wing government is still preferable to elections.

“What’s the alternative?” Netanyahu told his chareidi coalition partners, pointing to the dramatic rise in the polls of Avigdor Lieberman, who announced this week that he would even refuse draft deferrals to just forty illuyim. “According to every poll, if we go to elections now, there will be a solid majority for an anti-chareidi government.”

Netanyahu doesn’t believe in the government’s survival if the chareidim follow through on threats to leave the government while remaining in the coalition. When asked what the chareidim have to gain by staying in the government, Netanyahu points to the radical calls to strip the chareidi community of basic civil rights, such as preventing yeshivah students from leaving the country and seizing their drivers’ licenses.

As part of his attempts at persuasion, Netanyahu has told chareidi politicians that a right-wing government will be able to obstruct the more radical processes and even draft chareidim not studying in yeshivah to meet reasonable targets that the chareidim can accommodate.

The catch? The High Court’s latest ruling deprived the government of the authority to reinterpret, soften, and tone down the law. The government’s argument at the hearings was that the attorney general’s refusal to represent the government in several recent cases allows the government to interpret and implement her instructions on its own.

On this point, the justices ruled that in fact, the defense minister lacks the authority to limit the number of people the army calls up on procedural grounds. So who will oversee the process of calling up draft-age chareidim and freezing funding? Well, the High Court determined that that authority resides exclusively in the attorney general, who’s tasked with overseeing the work of government ministries.

As usual, the attorney general was quick on the uptake. In a letter issued the same day as the ruling, Baharav-Miara instructed the defense, finance, and education ministries to act immediately to draft 3,000 chareidim, over and above the average yearly intake — a total target of 4,200 chareidi recruits by this year.

In her letter, the attorney general emphasized that this is a preliminary target that doesn’t fully reflect the current needs of the military or the principle of equality of burden, and that the defense ministry must work to draw up a plan that increases that number. At the same time, she warned the finance and education ministries against seeking a way to transfer the funds anyway, bypassing the High Court ruling.

Baharav-Miara was referring, among other things, to an attempt by Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur of Shas to change the eligibility criteria for day care subsidies in a way that would enable working women whose husbands are technically deserters to benefit from subsidies, contrary to a previous directive of the attorney general.

The implication is clear: Any talk of a softened implementation of the High Court’s ruling is fake news. The attorney general isn’t the leader of the opposition, as Netanyahu characterized her. From now on, she can be seen as the acting prime minister, at least when it comes to the implementation of the High Court’s ruling on the draft. And whatever the stance of the elected government, Israel’s legal system is set on drafting yeshivah students — or hitting them in the pocketbook if they refuse.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1018)

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