The Knesset was humming with the sound of bells on Wednesday as the calls to vote for an equal service bill filled the building. The Supreme Court’s decision to cancel the Tal Law has caused a crisis in the Knesset to create a new and acceptable law before August 1.
The Yisrael Beytenu party, under Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, proposed the bill. Yet despite previous claims of fairness and equality by many Knesset members, as well as the government’s previous support of the bill, an overwhelming majority (74-20) voted against the bill.
This concept of equal service is one that the Yisrael Beytenu party has always supported, and they promised to vote for any bill that included that statement, according to a spokesperson for the party. This proved to be true when the party voted for an almost identical bill proposed by the Ha’atzmaut (Independence) party of Ehud Barak.
“Despite all the talk, there is no seriousness about change coming from any other party, as no one has created a written law in response,” someone close to the Yisrael Beytenu party told JewishPress.com. “We’re days away from the end of the Knesset and the August 1st deadline is looming,” he said.
The vote occurred the day after the Kadima party pulled out of the coalition and entered the opposition, specifically because of the draft issue.
The service options covered under the new bill could include military service, national service or community service, but the point is to create one rule for everyone to create a greater equality among Israelis.
“You have a responsibility to contribute to your country, to the state that you get benefits from,” a Yisrael Beytenu spokesperson said. “Those who serve will receive,” he added, using a phrase very similar to one Prime Minister Netanyahu used regarding compromising and negotiating with the Palestinians.
The opposition in large part comes from the Haredim.
Avraham Chasida, 32, is a Hassid from Yerushalayim and also an army veteran. He believes that the army is just one tool for protecting the Jewish people. But in turn, he also said that continuing to learn Torah is the only way the Jewish people will really be protected.
Chasida set up a tent in Wohl Rose Park outside of the Knesset in protest of the new bill. He explained that there has already been a natural increase in army service among the Ultra Orthodox community, without force or punishment – and specifically because of the Tal Law. Annually, there are around 7500 Chareidim who come of draft age. In 2007, 305 Haredi men were enlisted, while in 2011 that number has increased to 2,372. The Tal Law was working, he told us.
“Don’t just be right, be smart,” he said. “After 64 years, you can’t take people and turn them around and change them in one shot.”
Netanyahu also believes that it’s not practical to force the Ultra-Orthodox into service and is therefore attempting to create a proposition with more carrots and less sticks.
Some Knesset members are also aware that the transition must be smooth. “We can’t have a revolution, we have to have evolution,” MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said. That is in reference to society from both sides. The army needs to be prepared for the Haredim just as much as the Haredim need to be ready for service.
However, time is sensitive, and not only because of the August 1 deadline. Hotovely said that the window of opportunity is now, because in the near future, it may not be possible to pass due to Knesset representation changes.
A spokesperson for Yisrael Beytenu echoed her statement, but with some criticism. “We’ve had 64 years to evolve,” he said. “Demographically, it will be impossible to pass this bill 20 years from now.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu is now working on a bill that is a variation of the Plessner bill, that if all goes well, could be passed before the end of the month.
About the Author: Alex interns at JewishPress.com. She's a graduate of Binghamton University in New York.
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