On Sunday the Israeli cabinet approved a proposal submitted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Minister in Charge of National Service Daniel Hershkowitz regulating the absorption of about 1,300 young Haredim in the civilian national service. The Supreme Court’s elimination of the Tal Law which used to regulate Haredi conscription also interrupted the absorption of new volunteers into the non-military service.
Earlier this year the court declared the Tal Law unconstitutional and required the state to come up with a better alternative. As such an alternative had not been proposed by August, when the old law expired, Haredi youths could face normal enlistment, like their non-Haredi peers. The new order preserves the old situation—criticized by the court—whereby only a miniscule number of Haredim are enlisted.
Critics of the government are saying that the new decision was intended to improve Netanyahu’s coalition negotiations with the Haredi parties, especially with Shas, after the January election.
“The operation of the civil service as a means of promoting the Haredi share in the national burden has been recognized by the Supreme Court as an appropriate option for enlistment, and the government recognizes the importance of the civilian service as one of the major means of increasing an equal sahre the burden,” says the draft resolution that was approved today.
This resolution offers automatic exemption from military service to around 1,300 young Haredim and regulates their national service, which is available to volunteers age 26 and older without children, or age 22 with one child or more. However, the proposal emphasizes that this is merely a temporary solution “until such time when the issue is resolved through legislation,” and it will expires in August, 2013.
The decision has already elicited passionate reactions across the political system. Tzipi Livni, Chairperson of the Movement headed by Tzipi Livni, said that “Netanyahu prefers his natural coalition partners over those who actually bear the burden. The government’s intention to circumvent the High Court and to continue perpetuating the historical injustice is outrageous, immoral, and does not withstand the high court test.”
According to Livni, “on the eve of the elections, the government chooses to spit in the face of the Zionist majority which serves in the army, enlists for reserve duty every time anew, and is no longer willing to ignore this prolonged failure.”
Livni pledged to “work to change the situation radically and enforce a condition in which the service requirement applies to all levels of society, including Haredim and Arabs. There is no social justice or equality without full equality in shouldering the burden.”
The prime minister’s office stressed that without today’s decision on national service thousands of Haredim who are eager to join the police, EMT, and firefighting services, could not do it because the Tal Law regulating civilian service recruitment expired last August.
The PM’s office also noted that the data show that 85% of Haredim who joined the civilian service were later integrated into the labor market. Three months ago there were 2,026 Haredim enrolled in civilian service, Netanyahu’s office added, but because the Tal law had not been extended, their number dropped to 1,450. Today’s decision will bring the number to more than 2,000.