Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over the first session of the committee tasked with finding an alternative to the Tal Law on Monday, stressing the urgency of creating a new framework for universal national service.
Netanyahu said finding a replacement to the Tal Law was one of the first matters of business for the new unity government. With the law set to expire this summer, the prime minister told the committee members that “there is much work to do, and not much time to do it. We need to formulate a proposal and pass the legislation within weeks.”
Netanyahu outlined four aims for the committee: an equal distribution of the burden of service, gradual implementation of reforms, inclusion of Jews and Arabs alike, and seeking change without causing strife in the citizenry.
Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said he believes the legislation would help make society more cohesive, adding that that the opportunity to legislate on the matter is a “historic moment.”
The “Committee for the Advancement of an Equal Burden” is chaired by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, who is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and headed the subcommittee that examined the sustainability of the Tal Law. Other members include Maj.-Gen (Res.) Yehuda Segev, the head of the IDF’s Personnel Directorate; Bar-Ilan University Deputy President Yaffa Zilbershats, a legal scholar specializing in constitutional and citizenship laws; law professor Yedidia Stern, the vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute; Jacob Weinroth, one of Israel’s best-known criminal lawyers; and Yoav Kish, one of the leaders of the Suckers’ Tent, a nongovernmental protest group spearheading the effort to repeal ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions.
The committee’s inaugural session on Monday was also attended by representatives from the IDF’s Manpower division, the Finance Ministry, National Service Administration (which is under the Science and Technology Ministry), the Justice Ministry, the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, and the National Economic Council.
Although every party that is a member of the governing coalition was invited to participate in the committee, it is unlikely that the coalition’s ultra-Orthodox parties will cooperate.
Last week, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that his party would not participate in the committee’s work. “Shas will formulate its own solution to the problem,” he was quoted as saying. The same week, the United Torah Judaism party proposed a bill that would abolish the general draft and make IDF service voluntary.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the Tal Law – which enabled ultra-Orthodox Torah students to defer army service – as unconstitutional.
Part of the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Mofaz called for the government to quickly legislate an alternative to the Tal Law. Netanyahu pledged to pass such a law by the end of July.