As the deadline for the renewal of the Tal Law approaches and tens of thousands of people rallied to demand that all citizens of Israel perform national service, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting of the Likud Knesset faction to discuss ways to include Hareidim in national and military service. With his party in agreement, the prime minister is on his way to drafting new legislation.
The discussion comes less than a week after the prime minister suddenly disbanded the Plesner committee, a body he established due to the impending time lapse of the Tal Law to advise him on integrating Hareidi Jews into army and national service programs which are mandatory for the rest of Israeli society.
On Saturday night, 35,000 – 50,000 people joined a “Camp Suckers” demonstration to protest what they perceive to be as an unequal application of Israel’s mandatory draft. Due to the Tal law, which was passed in July 2002, Hareidi Jews can opt out of army service if they are enrolled in yeshiva. Participants included former Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin, former army chief Gabi Ashkenazi, former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and political hopeful and commentator Yair Lapid. Coalition member and Kadima head Shaul Mofaz arrived, but was booed and asked to leave.
The Supreme Court deemed the Tal law unconstitutional in February, causing an uproar in the Hareidi community, including an early morning “sack and ashes” protest against being forced to join the army. At the June 25 rally, Eda Haredit leader Rabbi Tuvia called mandatory Hareidi enlistment the government’s efforts to “destroy the Torah world.”
At the Sunday morning meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu utilized the recommendations of the defunct Plesner committee to brief Likud MKs. Soon after the briefing, the group agreed to promote the committee’s findings. The prime minister will meet with Mofaz to establish a legislation drafting team to replace the Tal Law. Initial reports indicate that MKs are ready to back the prime minister as long as conscription laws will include drafting into national service of Arabs with Israeli citizenship.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak disagreed with the notion of addressing Arab service at this time. “The main issue is ultra-Orthodox service,” said Barak. “We will have to create a law to deal with Arab inclusion in national service at a later date.”
Regardless, the new law will aim to slowly increase the numbers of conscripts, and provide a lot of incentives and benefits to participants. It will also enable a certain number of Torah “prodigies” – about 1,500 across the country – to remain exempt and continue Torah study in place of serving in the IDF.
“We are doing this 64 years after the issue was originally mishandled. This is a historic change,” said Netanyahu at the meeting.
The Plesner report calls for enforcement mechanisms to be put into place to prevent draft dodging, including sanctions against yeshivas which keep students from enlisting.
Law makers have until August 1 to put a new law into action.