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Netanyahu, Liberman, Prepare for Election Day Battle Over Haredi Draft

On their separate ways? Avigdor Lieberman (R) and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Avigdor Lieberman (R) and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

After the Israeli Supreme Court struck down the Tal Law, which sought to encourage the inclusion -over time- of Haredim in military service, the court, for all intents and purposes, has required the state to draft some 60,000 Haredi youths this August, in addition to 7,000 yeshiva students who already serve in keeping with the expiring, old law.

Prime Minister Netanyahu this week told representatives of reservist activists, who are protesting as part of the “suckers’ encampment,” that the Tal Law will be replaced with “a more egalitarian and just law,” and that “the division of the burden must be changed. What has been is not what will be.”

The 2002 Tal Law, named after retired Supreme Court justice Tzvi Tal, must be extended every five years. Among other things, the law allowed full-time yeshiva students to delay their army service until age 23, at which time they could choose to study full time, enlist for a shorter military service, or volunteer for a year of national service.

“I know that there are many hitchhikers who voted to automatically extend the Tal Law. I am not one of them,” Netanyahu told the protesting reservists. “The Tal Law will be replaced by a more egalitarian and just law, and I will submit it.”

Netanyahu said the new law would include civilian national service for Arab citizens, who are not required to serve in the military.

Meanwhile, à la guerre comme à la guerre, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, along with the head of the Labor and Meretz parties, have threatened to bring proposals for early elections before the Knesset in the coming days.

Likud coalition partner Yisrael Beytenu has also threatened to bring a request for early elections over amending the Tal Law, with party leader Avigdor Liberman saying that “Our obligation to the coalition is over.”

In preparation for the August deadline, and perhaps as a show of political muscle on the eve of an approaching early election, on May 9 Yisrael Beytenu will introduce the bill “IDF, National, or Civilian Service Law Proposal” in the Knesset, to regulate, once and for all, the enlistment of all Israelis into military, national or civilian service.

Submitted by MKs David Rotem, Moshe Matalon, Robert Ilatov, Anastassia Michaeli, Hamad Amar, Lia Shemtov, Faina Kirshenbaum, Alex Miller, and Orly Levy Abekasis, the new law sets out to promote “equal sharing of the burden of service among the State’s citizens.”

The new law introduces a framework in which every citizen will serve in the IDF, or in national or civilian service.

While “National Service” is already established as an alternative, voluntary option for Israeli youths who do not wish to serve in the IDF for a variety of reasons, the new law establishes compulsory “Civilian Service,” or community service, in “institutions for the absorption of new immigrants, health care, institutions for the elderly population, nursing homes, welfare departments in local authorities, fire services, the Israel Police Force, Environmental Protection and volunteer organizations.”

The new law will keep in place some of the existing deferrals of military service, such as the “Hesder Yeshivas,” which integrate periods of active IDF service and periods of study. Likewise, the Defense Minister may “exempt or grant a deferral from IDF service to outstanding students at universities, outstanding athletes and outstanding artists, provided that the number of exemptions and deferrals under this section not exceed one thousand per year.”

It is unclear what will be the basis for the quota of one thousand exemptions. The Jewish Press attempted to seek an explanation from the IB faction as to why this particular number but so far have not received a response.

But the number coincides with the other limit, of a maximum of one thousand exemptions and deferrals per year to long-term yeshiva students, “in order to continue the cultivation of prodigies among yeshiva students.”

And shortly afterwards, the new law arrives at the center piece of the matter – overturning of the Deferral Law for long-term yeshiva students. In one, laconic phrase, the proposal decrees:

“The Deferral of Service Act for Long-term Yeshiva students of 2002 (5762) is hereby overturned.”

The proposal concludes with an ideological substantiation of the above, curt statement:

“The idea that Torah study somehow forbids seeking employment or justifies deferring IDF service is incompatible with the Jewish faith. Maimonides explicitly states: “Anyone who decides that he will occupy himself with Torah and will not do any work profanes the Name of God, degrades the Torah, extinguishes the light of religion, hurts himself, and removes his life from the world to come – for it is forbidden to derive any benefit from matters of Torah in this world” (The Laws of Torah Study 3).

“Therefore, it is proposed that every citizen be obligated to serve the State of Israel. Anyone serving a complete term of civilian service, will be exempted from IDF service. Conditions and terms during and after the term of service will be comparable to the terms of those who served in the national service, whose terms are regulated by legislation.”

But the law does not set out how the military is to provide for the special needs of tens of thousands of Haredi men (and, ostensibly, women, if its purpose is to institute full equality), nor does it envision the educational process required to bring those recruits up to speed so that their contribution have some tangible value, other than to serve as a political lesson on equality before the law.

Indeed, the new, proposed law fails to envision a situation of mass draft dodging on the part of Haredi recruits, and the resources that would be required to bring them all in.

In that, the new law mimics the impatience and short-temper of the Beinisch court’s decision to finally kill the Tal Law. The old law worked slowly, perhaps too slowly, but it attempted to stir up evolution, instead of a radical confrontation.

Some material from JTA was used in this article.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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