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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Netanyahu Meets Hareidi Soldiers

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited on Tuesday the IDF base in central Israel, where he met with officers and soldiers from the Nachal Brigade's "Netzah Yehuda" hareidi battalion.

During the visit Netanyahu was briefed by the unit’s officers on the IDF track for hareidi recruits. He met with soldiers from the battalion, heard their stories about their IDF experiences and the difficulties they encountered en route to enlisting in the IDF.

Speaking to the soldiers, Netanyahu referred to his grandfather, a student at the Brisk Yeshiva: “One day, he stood with his brothers at a train station in Europe, in the snow, and was beaten by a gang of hooligans who called him 'Jew.' He lay bleeding in the mud and snow and did not know if he would live. He said to himself, 'What a shame that the sons of the Maccabees, the descendants of King David, lay in the mud without the ability to defend themselves. If I live, I will take my family and go to the Land of Israel and there we will found a state and an army.' He was a yeshiva student, an outstanding mind. He saw no contradiction. Faith is essential but so is the sword. How can we defend the Jewish People? How can we defend the Torah? With the strength of faith, certainly. But we must also wield the sword, the sword of David.”

Netanyahu added that “Here, there is an amazing combination of three things: faith, defense and earning a livelihood. I think that this is a revolution. I thought so in my first term as Prime Minister and I think so today even more. My impression is that in your stories and in what I hear, there is a fundamental change in ultra-orthodox society and we want to strengthen it. In five years, we want to double the number of draftees from the ultra-orthodox sector. You tell me how proud you are, and rightly so. I think that this changes not only ultra-orthodox society and its attitude to military service but also society's attitude to the ultra-orthodox public. We want to unite our people.”

Netanyahu’s visit came just two days after Israel’s Cabinet approved a resolution which marks a significant step in encouraging more hareidim to enlist for military and civilian service.

The resolution, which was approved in Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, will see the State of Israel allocating NIS 130 million per year to formulate unique recruitment plans for the Hareidi sector in the IDF.

“This decision will allow for doubling of the number of hareidim who recruit for civil service,” Netanyahu said at Sunday's meeting. “We are talking about doubling the numbers within five years, and we are talking about having most young hareidim joining civil service within five years. This is a significant revolution.”

The number of hareidi men in the army has been on the rise, with just over 1,000 in the IDF, and nearly another 1,100 in National Service in 2009. Just two weeks ago, eighty hareidi men joined the ranks of IDF intelligence.

Sgt. Aharon Steinmetz said during Tuesday’s meeting with the Prime Minister: “I grew up in as ultra-orthodox a background as there is, in ‘black’ yeshivot. I came across an article about the Battalion and I understood that it was not what I thought. My feeling had been that it served those who were on the margins of ultra-orthodox society. I understood that I had to enlist and serve. This was very difficult; I needed to go to my parents and tell them that I wanted to enlist. They did not want me to and said that I was destroying the family and my brothers. It took me a long time to explain to them that it was not that terrible. I turned to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion because I understood that it was designated for combat service and that is what provides strength and gives more than any other framework. When I go around on the street in Jerusalem in uniform, I feel great and I see the change. There was friction in the past and I was asked to take off my uniform when I came home. Today, I am accepted.”