The end of army draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox — at least in its current manifestation — is the order of the day for Israeli papers this morning. All four lead with the High Court of Justice’s striking down of the Tal Law, which allowed full-time yeshiva students to get draft deferments, essentially exempting them from Israel’s mandatory force.
The ruling was something of a last hurrah for court president Dorit Beinisch, who wrote the majority opinion, especially since Justice Asher Grunis, who will soon be replacing her at the head of bench, was on the loosing side of the argument. Maariv quotes Grunis saying overturning the law won’t help anybody. “It’s a mistake to expect that court decisions will bring Haredim into the draft and into the workforce. The ability of the court to influence a thing like that is small.”
As is the style of Israeli journalism, which often places a premium on opinions, all four major papers are filled with commentaries on Tuesday night’s historic ruling. “The decision is a nuclear hot potato on the desk of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. He can take advantage of the High Court [ruling] and create a courageous new law that will bring logical order, or he can go with a law that bypasses the High Court together with the Haredim,” writes Ben Caspit in Maariv.
In Haaretz, one of the more vocal opponents of the law, Yossi Verter, writes that the Knesset will be flooded with a deluge of new bills aiming to replace the Tal Law: “The main question at this point in time is whether Netanyahu, who is well aware of the popularity of Haredi-drafting bravado, is mentally ready to divorce his natural partners, the Haredi parties, and to propose a bill that would put an end to the long relationship between Likud and these parties?”
In Israel Hayom, Aviad Hacohen writes that the ruling is just, but not necessarily wise. “The history of relations between the state and religion teaches that sometimes a strong-arm process, aggressive in the eyes of its recipients, can work like a boomerang.”
In Yedioth Ahronoth, Likud officials are quoted as saying that the ruling, which Netanyahu gave his blessing to, could cause early elections, if he is unable to mollify the Haredi parties that are the linchpin of his governing coalition. “The High Court decision solves a short-term headache for Netanyahu, in the wake of confrontations between Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas over the future of the Tal Law, but the moment the prime minister wants to come to an agreement in the spirit of the High Court ruling, he will face opposition from the representatives of the Haredi parties. A confrontation like that in the middle of the summer could move up elections,” one senior Likud operative (or many, and in unison, if we are to believe the writers) told the paper.
What to do about the Tal Law wasn’t the only headache Netanyahu was dealing with Tuesday night. The second big story in the papers is the exodus of one of the prime minister’s top aides, Yoaz Hendel, in the wake of the Natan Eshel affair. Hendel was one of the three senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office who complained about the conduct of bureau chief Natan Eshel, leading to his ouster, and Netanyahu was reportedly none too happy, saying he had lost faith in the three officials.
Haaretz reports that Netanyahu has asked him to stay a bit longer, but should he leave, that will mean Netanyahu is losing three of his top aides ( Hendel, Eshel and Yohanan Locker, another whistleblower who is returning to the IDF) in a short period of time.
A number of papers report on a video that found its way online of Netanyahu getting frustrated with the third whistleblower, Zvi Hauser, about taking orders to ask someone to close a door. Hauser is also reportedly on his way out, but he has refused to quit, saying he’s done nothing wrong.
Yedioth has a story about commuters getting fed up with train service or lack thereof. Yesterday, one day after the rail workers union promised not to strike for two weeks, there were massive disruptions of rail service, which the Israel Railways CEO blamed on the union. This comes after a number of strikes in the past few weeks over workers’ rights. “I’m wasting morning after morning,” one passenger from Hadera said. “In the last month I was late to work six times because of the failures and lapses of the train.”
The paper also has a feature on the Dolphin submarine Israel is purchasing from Germany. Under the headline “Israel’s Judgment Day weapon exposed,” the paper gives a tour of the sub’s features and writes that according to foreign sources, it will give Israel second-strike capability, that is, the ability to be able to strike back with a nuclear weapon against anyone who might take out the country’s land- and air-based resources. The sub won’t be ready until 2014, the paper reports.
Maariv has the heartwarming story of a widower who lost his wife right after she gave birth and who wants his newborn to have breast milk. The father turned to the Internet and the result is a fridge full of breast milk from mothers from all over the country who donated. The issue has brought to light the need for a national milk bank to help others in the same situation.
In the op-ed section of Israel Hayom, Ronen Cohen questions US Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Martin Dempsey over his claim that Iran is a “rational actor.” “In the West’s view, on the one hand Iran is crazy, with the will to obtain nuclear capability, together with the desire to wipe Israel (and maybe some other countries) off the map. On the other hand, the West still sees, or wants to see, a rational state that maybe wants nuclear capability, but definitely wouldn’t use it.”
In Haaretz, Reuven Pedatzur writes that the threats of program cuts in the Defense Ministry are a scare tactic being used to cow the public into granting them more money. “The IDF top brass apparently doesn’t understand that even when you want to scare the decision makers, it’s better not to exaggerate and turn the scare tactics into a farce,” he writes. “No less serious is the fact that the media and the politicians are adopting the IDF narrative that the defense budget has been cruelly cut. The truth is just the opposite, of course. The 2012 defense budget, which was approved by the Knesset, is about NIS 1.5 billion larger than the 2011 budget and about NIS 4 billion larger the 2010 budget.”
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