Hours after tens of thousands of people rallied in Tel Aviv to call for equal service for all, the ruling Likud faction adopted the recommendations of the Plesner committee for including ultra-Orthodox Israelis in military and national service.
Netanyahu met with Kadima head Shaul Mofaz later Sunday morning to select a team that will draft legislation to replace the outgoing Tal Law, which for 10 years provided ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students with a framework for exemption from service but was struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year as unconstitutional.
The Likud’s representative to the team will be Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Kadima’s representative will be Yohanan Plesner. The team plans to submit a draft bill to the Knesset by next Monday, after having it approved by the government.
The only change introduced by the Likud MKs to the recommendations issued last week by the Plesner Committee was a clause addressing conscription to national service by Arab Israelis, requested by the right-wing faction of the party.
The Likud faction’s approval of the recommendations represented a volte face, since Netanyahu had unilaterally dismantled the committee early last week — after participants from Yisrael Beytenu, Jewish Home and Yaakov Weinroth (representing ultra-Orthodox interests) resigned from it — and sought to prevent MK Plesner from releasing its proposals.
When the prime minister disbanded the Plesner committee following the defections last week, he apparently reasoned that the committee’s recommendations could no longer garner a majority in the Knesset.
Hawkish Likud MK Danny Danon, defying the majority Likud line, called the committee’s recommendations “political bribery for Mofaz’s Arab voters in Kadima.”
Ahead of the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said the new law would have to shift reality by gradually increasing the number of conscripts and be implemented responsibly to prevent a societal rift. Netanyahu pledged to introduce incentives to those who serve and disincentives to draft dodgers. “We are doing this 64 years after the issue was originally mishandled. This is a historic change,” said Netanyahu.
Responding to the previous night’s Tel Aviv protest, Netanyahu said he understands the complaints of those who serve and feel unfairly burdened. “Everyone must share in the burden,” he said.
An estimated 35,000 people attended a “sucker’s movement” protest Saturday night calling for all Israelis to share in the burden of national or military service. Among the noteworthy participants in the march were former Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin, former army chief Gabi Ashkenazi, former deputy chief of staff Moshe Kaplinsky, former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former defense minister Amir Peretz and aspiring politician Yair Lapid. Politicians were not allowed to speak at the rally.
Mofaz came to the rally, but was booed and asked to leave by the activists.
The committee’s report calls for universal service for all citizens, including mandating the conscription of ultra-Orthodox men and a national service program for the Arab sector. It also calls for formulating an effective enforcement system and incentives for serving.
The report calls for individual financial sanctions against draft dodgers, and sanctions against yeshivas that prevent their students from enlisting.
In February, the High Court of Justice declared the Tal Law, which allowed ultra-Orthodox men to defer service indefinitely, to be unconstitutional, and set August 1 as the deadline for a new law to be passed.
Yisrael Beytenu officials said Sunday the party was unsatisfied with the new Likud-proposed clause on Arab Israelis, with MK Uzi Landau calling it a fig leaf and asserting that it wouldn’t compel that sector to serve. Still, Yisrael Beytenu reiterated that it was not going to bolt the coalition over the issue.
Ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism issued a statement saying that Netanyahu was behaving irresponsibly, but that they would wait to see the final draft of the bill before deciding on whether or not to quit the coalition.