Israeli comedy strikes hard at the Haredim and their refusal to be drafted, but ironically, it's the IDF that got angry

In one of their edgiest clips yet, Eretz Nehederet touched a lot of raw nerves ... some intended and some likely not. We explain. Plus many other hints that massive change could be in the offing.

No transcript...

Image, undoubtedly created by AI, that has been making its way around Israel social media for a while, says it all.

More than a decade ago, my office at work was situated next door to the office of a former IDF Chief of Staff, who was then working with us. The way my desk was situated, I could see down the hall while sitting at my desk, and thus saw the comings and goings of many of the people on that part of the floor.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that former Chiefs of Staff have many contacts in the army. So with some regularity, women and men in uniform could be seen walking down the hall, seemingly towards my office, but in fact, of course, to see him. A few yards before my door, they’d stop, look left, and knock on his door. Minutes later, I could hear from his office muffled chatter, and occasionally a good-natured laugh.

There were days, though, that that “view” from my desk stopped my breath, and kept me distracted for hours. Our son was in the army then, in a unit that was far from safe. And more times than I can count, I would be at my desk, look up from my screen, and see two officers walking down the hall, straight to my door.

That image fills Israelis with utter dread, for that is how the army brings you the very bad news. Two officers, often with a doctor lurking further back, just in case…. And then they tell you.

So seated in my office, I’d look up, see two officers headed my way, and my heart would stop. I couldn’t breathe. Stone still, I’d look at them—

—and then they knocked on the other guy’s door.

The chatter and the laughing soon followed, but I was a wreck. Often for the rest of the day, I got nothing done as I struggled not to feel the nausea that somehow refused to recede.

With the war dragging on with no clear end in sight, the north potentially about to explode and the number of casualties mounting, the fact that Haredi young men are not being drafted (and many, many fewer are enlisting than had been hoped at the beginning of the war) is becoming a huge political issue.

So Eretz Nehederet, Israel’s rough equivalent to Saturday Night Live though always much edgier (this, after all is Israel, not the US), ran a skit recently about that scene that terrifies Israeli parents and spouses—the two officers showing up to the door.

Haredim, of course, were incensed by the skit, but they’re used to being appalled by Eretz Nehederet. This time, though, the IDF also expressed its displeasure. The men and women who serve as Casualty Officers (those who go to the house to share the horrible news) are working overtime, are heartbroken and don’t deserve to be made fun of, the army said. There has to be a limit.

I personally didn’t think that the skit was ridiculing them at all, but others did. Still, some sources thought that even that was OK. Here’s Ma’ariv, for example:

Eretz Nehederet just shook up the whole country—and that’s a good thing

Whether it was the opening skit that leveled a blistering critique of the exemption of Haredim from the draft, or the direct comparison of Netanyahu and Sinwar [DG - later in the show], Eretz Nehederet gave everyone reason to be angry. And that’s good.

Indications that something has to give are everywhere. There’s TV comedy as above, political online banners that we’ll see below, and lots of written stuff. Even in Makor Rishon, a religious, right-of-center paper, this weekend, I counted at least half a dozen major pieces on the issue. Not one of them supported the status quo.

Here’s Yair Sheleg, one of Israel’s most respected public intellectuals, who happens to be religious (not nearly all of the paper’s writers are, of course), in last Shabbat’s Makor Rishon.

Sheleg begins by pointing to the fact that throughout Israel municipal elections are about to be held. No one is paying attention to them, he says, because of the war—except for the Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox. They, of course, are not at war, so they see a unique opportunity to organize and prepare for the election at a time when others cannot. Why does this matter? …

The Israbluf of Haredi Draft

… If the power of the ultra-Orthodox grows in the upcoming elections in Jerusalem, Arad, Kiryat-Gat, Ashdod and other mixed [DG - Haredi and not Haredi] cities, the budgetary allocations for their educational systems will grow relative to that of secular and national-religious groups, which could have an adverse affect on the secular way of life.

This is yet another reason for the fact that the current arrangement exempting Haredi young men from the draft simply has to stop. But it is of course not the main reason. The main reason is that Israeli society simply cannot abide this arrangement any longer. The burden on those who serve in the regular military as well as that of reservists is going to increase dramatically after the war, but in Haredi society there are at least 10,000 young men each year who are not being drafted—discrimination [DG - against non-Haredim] that no reasonable mind can support. We used to speak about waiting patiently for a slow process that was already afoot in the Haredi world, but today, it is obvious that the process is proceeding far too slowly.

The change can, and must, begin in one particular context—the “yeshivot for dropouts” [DG - for Haredi young men who are not in “real” yeshivot], a fiction that was created so that even young Haredi men who don’t have it in them to study all day will still not be subject to the draft. According to most estimates, about a fifth to a quarter of all Haredi young men fall into this category, which thus comprises thousands of people each year. The claim that “his Torah is his profession” [DG - the phrase that Haredim use to justify their sons sitting in yeshiva rather than working or serving] clearly does not apply to them and in no way justifies their draft evasion. If they [DG - Haredi leadership] will not agree to having these men drafted, we need to cut off all the funding for these “dropout yeshivot” immediately.

The members of the coalition who are not Haredi understand the need for change. They already realize that this is going to be the toughest issue for them in the next elections. Torn between the public and the coalition, they parrot meaningless phrases such as “we need to draft, but with their agreement” or “in no way can we pass a law about the draft [DG - which the IDF is requesting so that it can increase service time for men and women, regular soldiers as well as reservists] that does not address the Haredi issue, and passing such a law is critical at this very moment.” These are meaningless suggestions, with absolutely nothing behind them.

The Haredim themselves do not believe that this whole issue is their problem: let the secular Israelis bust their heads trying to figure out where to find more soldiers. This, too, has to change. We need to say to the Haredi leadership that if they don’t come up with reasonable compromises, non-Haredi public officials will take the issue up without Haredi participation and make appropriate decisions.

“The need of the moment” is part of the culture of Israbluf [DG - a slang phrase that connotes pretending to make a decision while, in fact, kicking the can down the road]. The members of the coalition understand full well that a permanent law exempting Haredi men from the army [DG - the primary reason that the Haredim supported judicial reform, since had it passed, the Supreme Court would not have been able to block such a law] will not sit well with the public. So they speak about “the need of the moment” to extend the current arrangement, fully intending to extend it again, year after year. The Haredim don’t care one whit how the secular world justifies extending the exemption [DG - as long as it does]. But it’s also clear that the army does not have time to wait for the shenanigans of the politicians. That is why we should immediately draft those who have dropped out of “real” yeshivot, and pass a law extending the status quo for the rest of the Haredim, with the understanding that someone needs to appeal that law to the Supreme Court so that the Knesset cannot continue to extend it.

Since October 7, Israeli politicians have been competing to see who can say with the greatest frequency “to be worthy of their [DG - the fallen soldiers’] sacrifice.” But if they plan to deal with the issue of the Haredi draft the way that they have in previous decades, what we need to say to them when they say [“to be worthy of their sacrifice”] is “spare us your hypocrisy.”

Sheleg’s proposal is moderate because it starts with the more egregious cases, and puts off—but only briefly—the larger issue. Though religious himself and certainly respectful of much of the Haredi way of life, Sheleg understands that time is running out—for the Haredim, for everyone else’s patience, and for the army’s needs.

Were elections to be held today, polls say, Gantz and partners would win handily. The Likud would be in the opposition, and so might the Haredi parties. If that happens, laws could be changed without their agreement, and with Israelis waking up to the names and photos of dead soldiers virtually every morning, the push to do so is growing.

Take, for example, this banner that topped some of Israel’s news websites this week:

Gallant: it’s time for equal service. [In the red:] click here to add your voice to our demand.

If the law is changed, the Haredim, of course, will take to the streets as they have in the past. They’ll block traffic. They’ll burn tires.

And then we’re going to see if the police will send in water canons and horseback mounted officers, just as they did to the anti-judicial reform protesters at Kaplan Square.

Everyone is going to be watching. It is becoming even more possible that 2024 may just become the year in which the protests of 2023 end up seeming like small, intimate gatherings.

Impossible Takes Longer is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.

Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!